With just one week until the Board of Freeholders vote on a controversial move to eliminate $500,000 in Bergen County Open Space funding from the Hackensack Waterworks buildings along the Oradell and New Milford border, the governing bodies in each municipality approved resolutions urging the County Board to rethink their decision.
The Oradell-specific letter focuses on the need for the stabilization of the chimney smokestacks, repairing the fence around the property and closing the building to the public. Even though the Waterworks is not open to residents, access is still available to the interior of each building.
"Until the County makes up its mind on what they will do with the buildings, something needs to be done," Oradell Council President James Koth said. "Closing up those buildings is important for public safety. I think its counterproductive to take this money and use to tear down a house for a parking lot."
The $500,000 funding in question was approved by the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund Committee over the summer however during the fall the Freeholders chose to reallocate the money to reimburse the borough of Saddle River for the purchase of the Marker property near Rindlaub Park for a parking lot and street access to East Allendale Road.
Freeholder John Felice had previously stated that following the September 2011 storms he could not support using additional taxpayer money for the Waterworks project.
The Hackensack Waterworks and adjoining Van Buskirk Island are owned by Bergen County following a 1990 sale by United Water. The building's basements and underground cisterns have flooded with water from the Hackensack River due to a lack of power to the buildings causing the sump pumps to be turned off.
"The purpose of the Open Space grant was to help shore up the smokestacks before they start falling down," Oradell Mayor Joseph Murray said. "They way I understand it, if the $500,000 grant goes away, the County also loses a matching $750,000 grant from the state."
Bergen County is set to receive $750,000 from the New Jersey Historic Trust Fund as a matching grant to the County Open Space grant for the completion of the stabilizing the smokestacks, repairing the fence and closing the building to the public. There is also the possibility of an additional $700,000 grant when Gov. Chris Christie signed S-2898 in August 2011.
"The grants are very specific and can only be used for historic preservation," Maggie Harrer, Waterworks Conservancy Board President Emeritus said. "This funding was carefully budgeted for the smokestack repair to begin last spring, having gone so far as to seek a request for proposals, go out to bid and choose a contractor."
The Oradell resolution was approved unanimously although the final language will be completed prior to the end of the week. The New Milford version (found at right) was approved 4-2 with Council members Hedy Grant, Randi Duffie, Howard Berner and Austin Ashley in favor. Both Councilmen Dominic Colucci and Diego Robalini voted against the measure stating they wanted a chance to tour the Waterworks buildings prior to voting for it.
The Bergen County Freeholders will make their final decision regarding the $500,000 Open Space funding on March 21, 8pm at One Bergen County Plaza, Hackensack.