Environmental Ed, Wildlife Habitat Thrive At Former Rensselaer Manufacturing Site

Jul 6, 2019

In 2011, BASF opened its environmental education classroom and wildlife habitat at the site of the company’s former manufacturing facility in Rensselaer to the public. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas recently toured the site.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

On Riverside Avenue, near where motorists exit off the Dunn Memorial Bridge into downtown Rensselaer, there is a thriving 90-acre plot along the Hudson River that boasts a 10-acre wildlife habitat.

BASF says it has invested more than $20 million into the environmental reclamation and cleanup of the property, which had seen industrial use for 100 years. The BASF Environmental Education Center serves as a living classroom for local schools and community groups. 

The refuge sits atop an industrial landfill, capped by a layer of crushed stone and various types of soil with a barrier to prevent burrowing critters from reaching the waste below.

John Bleiler , Bob Nelson, Doug Reid-Green
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

"You're in the Rensselaer Education Center that was built by BASF as a commitment to the community, to bring schoolkids here, teach 'em about chemistry, about biology, basically STEM education work. We've had over 900 kids this year come through this facility, and we've been doing this now for the better part of 10 years," said Doug Reid-Green, a remediation expert assigned to the site, reclaimed from the BASF industrial dyestuffs production facility, which was shuttered in 2000.

"We're in the middle of finishing a project to remediate our part of the Hudson River. By the end of the year we will have removed the contaminants from the sediment in the river that were related to the site, and then we will be building ecology in the river and on the river banks that will make it look like it operated before the manufacturing site was here. So the river and the land will be connected again."

John Bleiler is a biologist with an environmental consulting group monitoring the site:   "There's a legacy of contamination in the Hudson River immediately adjacent to this site, it crosses about 5 acres of the Hudson River, and we're working closely with BASF and the New York State DEC to remove contamination from that portion of the river, install an ecological cover system and as Doug mentioned, openly provide ecological continuity between the river and the upland adjacent to it."

We've had over 900 kids this year come through this facility, and we've been doing this now for the better part of 10 years. ~ Doug Reid-Green

Bleiler describes the three-year program that began with two years of dredging.   "Removing about 40,000 cubic yards of sediment form the river, backfilling with clean material, all along the way conducting extensive monitoring of air, noise, vibration and particularly the water to make sure there's no turbidity or sediment leaving the site. It's done behind a double silt curtain to provide additional protection and we even have real-time monitoring buoys that are collecting data 24 hours 7 days a week, with automated systems run by solar arrays and modeming the data back to people so that you could be sitting in Boston or California and review the water quality date in real time."

Phase two of the dredging begins this month. 

A groundhog burrowed a hole at the BASF site.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

The site's wildlife habitat is an ecologically enhanced area Reid-Green says promotes growth of indigenous plants to provide foraging and nesting areas for a wide variety of animals; a way-station for migratory birds; and a freshwater wetland area to provide a habitat for aquatic species, amphibians and reptiles.  "We're at over a hundred different bird species. We've seen five different kinds of snakes. We've had three different kinds of turtles. Ther've been deer. We've had fox and kits here. We've actually seen coyotes. So it's been used by a wide variety of different animals."

Yet the refuge sits atop an industrial landfill, capped by a layer of crushed stone and various types of soil with a barrier to prevent burrowing critters from reaching the waste below.

Bob Nelson is a communications manager for BASF:  "We're very proud of the work that's been done out here over the years and we're always looking for opportunities to further expand educational opportunity, so if anybody is interested in looking at an ecological wonder here, we welcome them to come take a look and see if there's any programs they'd be interested in. Community groups,, educational institutions, schools or field trip just please get in touch with us, we'd be happy to co-ordinate this and some things in the habitat area."