Hillsdale and Westwood Residents Want Planning Board to Evaluate Dam Project
A United Water representative says the planning board is not qualified to approve a dam.
A group of Hillsdale and Westwood residents want more input on United Water's plan to upgrade the dam at the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir, according to Don MacLachlan, an attorney hired by the residents.
MacLachlan said he believes that an attorney for United Water, who wrote earlier this year that the utility does not need to appear before the Hillsdale Planning Board, is incorrect because some aspects of the plan violate Hillsdale's land use, soil movement and tree removal ordinances.
"What we're asking for is not simple opposition," MacLachlan said. "What's critical here is that Hillsdale continue to take the lead in requiring that any citizen, be they the most humble individual or the most humble trillion-dollar multinational water company, abide by the rules of the law."
The Department of Environmental Protection is requiring United Water to upgrade the dam so it can withstand a 1,000-year storm, or 30,000 cubic feet per second of rainfall. Hurricane Floyd brought about 8,000 cubic feet per second of water and Irene brought about 5,000.
The DEP approved the upgrade plan last year.
MacLachlan said bringing the application before the planning board would allow the borough's experts to weigh-in on the plan and evaluate the impact of changes to the plan's "water release enhancement," which he said could potentially double the rate of water flowing into the Pascack Brook.
Rich Henning, a representative of United Water, said that no dam in New Jersey has ever needed approval from a planning board.
"Planning boards do not have the expertise to make judgments on dams," Henning said.
The Hillsdale and Westwood Flood Solution Group is bringing their case to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU). MacLachlan said they want to participate as fully as is allowed by law.
"It is my view that the BPU will have to apply Hillsdale's law," MacLachlan said.
Hillsdale Mayor Max Arnowitz said the project, which will close Church Road for the estimated two years it will take to complete, will cause a problem for emergency services responding to the west side of the borough.
Henning said he believed that mutual aid between towns' emergency services could handle any situations that arise during the work, but Arnowitz said he was not sure neighboring towns would be able to come to Hillsdale in the event of a natural disaster.
"I'm very concerned," Arnowitz said.
According to Arnowitz, members of the planning board have been working on recommendations for how to proceed and he said he hopes to have a plan by next week.
Westwood Mayor John Birkner has also expressed concern about problems during the rehabilitation work. Birkner said he wants to know if the DEP will assist with the cost of damages for any flooding that occurs along the Pascack Brook while the work is being done.
The DEP has scheduled a meeting with officials from the county Office of Emergency Management and local emergency services on June 26 to discuss the issue.
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