By the numbers: Hurricane Sandy’s environmental impact

It was one of the ugly reminders of Hurricane Sandy: the piles of debris from destroyed properties that lined streets and alleys for days and then weeks after the storm hit.

How much debris exactly? According to testimony by state Commissioner of Environmental Protection Robert Martin, 6.2 million cubic yards of debris was left behind in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

By one count, that’s enough to fill a 170-acre landfill. And filling that 170-acre landfill would normally take seven years.

“It’s just a massive operation,” Martin said of the task of carting it all away, first to temporary local sites and then to landfills.

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That figure on the amount of debris was one of several sets of numbers Martin cited in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee yesterday in describing the widespread environmental impact of the hurricane.

Parks were damaged. Sewage was discharged. Water plants were disabled. Each of the topics came with numbers that might have been unfathomable until that fateful Monday and Tuesday in November.

And Martin’s testimony didn’t even get into the issue of coastal erosion and protection, which legislators said will be the subject of a separate hearing in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, here are a few more numbers.

70 out of 604 water facilities were “in distress” during and after the storm hit: They were large and small, Martin said, but few were immune from the power outages that plagued much of the state for weeks. He said water kept flowing, but not without some health warnings at various locations.

7 of the water plants are still disabled, mostly along the Shore.

19 boil-water orders were issued, affecting about 300,000 people.

80 out of 369 wastewater-treatment plants were damaged during and after the storm: The plants were hammered by rising water that shut down electrical controls or power outages that accomplished much the same. Overall, 3.3 million people were affected, Martin said. The state provided fuel and generators, but major discharges were made by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority into the Passaic River and the Middlesex County Utility Authority into the Raritan River to avoid sewage backing up into homes. Martin said no long-term contamination was found in coastal waters in monitoring by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

378,000 gallons of diesel oil spilled in the Arthur Kill and other surrounding creeks: The leaks were from two damaged storage tanks in Sewaren. State officials dispatched skimmer boats and containment booms, and took other measures to help control and clean the spill, Martin said.

44 of 50 state parks and all 21 historical sites in the state are now open: Not all are fully accessible to the public, with some buildings and exhibits still under repair. In one of those hit hardest, only about a third of Liberty State Park is now open, although more sections open every week, Martin said. At another popular spot, the plan is to reopen Island Beach State Park by next summer.

NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.

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