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Hackensack Riverkeeper Supports Development of United Water Property

Citing land as "post-industrial," Hackensack Riverkeeper says United Water property is not considered a critical habitat and sides with Subrizi in favoring Hekemian's original plan for development.

Hackensack Riverkeeper, Bill Sheehan, told Patch that while it would have been "wonderful" if New Milford had been able to acquire the United Water property for open space preservation, the land itself is "post-industrial" and, as a whole, offers no environmental protection against flooding, as SOD (Stop Over Development) contends.

"While I agree that 221 residential units plus a shopping center is a helluva lot to shoehorn into 13 acres, if the redevelopment plan comports with stormwater and flood-protection regulations, there is no good reason for our organization to oppose it," Sheehan said.

Although the United Water property exists within the watershed property of the Hackensack River, Sheehan upholds, "The property was used for many years as an industrial site and is not considered wetlands, lowland forest, or an otherwise critical habitat."

According to Sheehan, the part of the United Water property that actually retains water is the back portion, "And that's not the property that is being considered for development," he said.

Sheehan told Patch that early in 2012 he was contacted by an anonymous donor who had $1.5 million to donate and asked him if he knew of a project where this money could be put to good use. The donor specified that the money would only be available for a limited amount of time.

"I immediately thought of New Milford and the United Water property," Sheehan said. "I reached out to Councilman Howard Berner with this donor's offer and told him that New Milford should grab this money and use it before it's gone." According to Sheehan, he never heard back from Berner.

Although the $1.5 million figure does not seem like a lot of money in light of the $8 million purchase price, Sheehan said that $1.5 million on the table would not only have been a good place to start, but it would have also represented an act of good faith.

"The balance of the cost of the property could have been pursued through Green Acres and Open Space funds," he added.

Given the fact that the purchase of the property was not pursued by the town and is now in the midst of a private sale, Sheehan is in support of Hekemian's original plan presented to the town in 2011.

"Hekemian’s original plan included the supermarket and strip mall, but zero residential units," Sheehan said.

Agreeing with Mayor Ann Subrizi's current position, Sheehan said, "The original Hekemian plan would have deeded several acres over to the borough for new playing fields and parking for New Milford High School and would have done more to alleviate flooding than what's before the zoning board now."

In speaking to Hekemian's current plan, Sheehan said, "There's no 'payday' for the town in the building of housing units," referring to the 221 units currently being proposed for the property by Hekemian.

"The cost of educating the children who live there, plus the demand on borough services, places a huge financial burden on the town," he said.

Which is why Sheehan said that he hoped Hekemian would revert to the original proposal whereby they would cede a critical portion of the United Water property to New Milford for a field and remove the residential component of the development.

Because, according to Sheehan, what will alleviate the flooding is if the High School field is returned to its natural vegetative state.

"The area that experiences the most flooding is the High School football field," Sheehan said. "What would help the residents of Columbia Street most is if the football field was returned to its natural vegetative state by planting trees so that it could absorb the water."

"If that happens," Sheehan said, "it will help to protect the homeowners on Columbia Street from the floods they have experienced."

Sheehan also pointed out that the opposition to any developmental plan for that property by SOD is an argument based on a threat to the quality of life, rather than a threat to the environment.

"There's a difference between an environmental protection argument, and a quality of life argument," Sheehan said.

The bottom line for Sheehan is that the United Water property is not considered to abut Category One waters. Category One waters are defined by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) as "waters protected from any measurable changes in water quality because of their exceptional ecological significance, exceptional recreational significance, exceptional water supply significance, or exceptional fisheries resources."

"As I’ve said to my friends in New Milford, if the land in question was wetlands, lowland forest or otherwise critical habitat, Hackensack Riverkeeper would
be fighting alongside them to preserve it from development," Sheehan said.

Check in with Patch for updates to this story.

Donna Colucci November 29, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Honestly, scooby-doo, If you or anyone else typing on this thread think that I have the time to make up silly fake names and jump back and forth like some of you all do, you are completely out of line and couldn't be more ridiculous in your words. What exactly do you think, I DON'T GET? I don't need an answer because they would mean nothing to me. You are mean spirited, angry, bitter people. Have a good night and ohhhh let me jump in now as another name...FYI you would be very surprised how many people actually read the stories on Patch, however you underestimate the majority of the Patch community that do not speak into the computer and when they do, they feel the need to hide themselves from your rudeness and sour words.
Ulises November 29, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Lolita, the River Creeper is blaming SOD, mostly made of New Milford residence, for the proposed plan, which he's lying about, yet, you're defending a man that lives in Hudson County or Seacacus, rather than your neighbors in Bergen County??? I'm willing to get sued by this Captain Morgan sipping River Creeper because your claim of a lawsuit would never uphold in a court of law - even if it went to the Supreme Court. It's called 'freedom of speech' - so please don't try scare tactics, they really don't work.
scooby doo November 29, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Whoa! What makes you think I was referring to you?????? You're a bit paranoid, don't ya think??
Lolita November 29, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Mr. Ulises, read my blogs. I am not, nor have I been defending anyone. I'm only trying to make you all aware that this is a public website and the printed word is proof for legal issues. It is quite apparent that you and your SOD friends just don't get it. Any time anyone puts up a differing thought from any of yours, you group together and berate the person. You are the bullies of this website and anyone with an honest heart can and does see it. You are so engrossed in your righteousness that you have no tolerance for others. If this matter were to be put on a ballot, the water property development would be overwhelming. Most especially when the other 16,000 people in town realized how much they would actually benefit by more tax money coming in.
Tim McElroy November 29, 2012 at 04:42 AM
SOD is embarassing themselves.... Someone had a different point of view; ACCEPT IT AND STOP WHINING!! Believe it or not, some people would like to see something nice built on the UW property. That doesn't make them bad people and they shouldn't be bullied by your silly group.
Michelle November 29, 2012 at 05:05 AM
I’d have to say, what’s in it for you Bill Sheehan that you have to come out publicly in support of Hekemian? It’s one thing to have an opinion, and another to push it publicly, especially when it doesn't involve you. Until this moment Hekemian and The Hackensack Riverkeeper would have created an oxymoronic image in my mind, to the extreme, but now you’re in bed together. Why? I thought you were a CONSERVATIONIST? Isn’t open space a natural resource? Isn’t the main focus of natural resource management “quality of life for present and future generations”? Doesn’t environmental governance and stewardship involve managing human impact on the ecosystem? Does a Super ShopRite and 9 ½ acres of concrete and asphalt factor into your idea of natural resource management and environmental excellence? Is the environmental community supporting urban sprawl now? I am such a purist, that out of everything that has transpired to date, this one floors me the most. I think I’ve been watching too much of the Walking Dead. Everyone is susceptible to infection. People turn. And there you have it: The Riverkeeper casts a vote for concrete and asphalt over soil, water, trees and animal life. Austin Ashely’s words at candidate’s night visit me over and over again: The lesser of two evils is still evil. And as George Carline says, “May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.” Because rest assured, it’s on its way.
Ulises November 29, 2012 at 06:31 AM
Mr. McElroy, look who's calling the kettle black. All you do is whine about SOD or people who live in flood zones in town, etc... look up your post. This forum is all about expressing opinions and there's people that disagree with one another all the time, like I always do about your comments. You are calling SOD members embarrassing, whining, and silly... Isn't name calling bullying? I think your misinterpreting a passionate group in town that cares more about preserving open space for future generations than a River Keeper that promotes that idea but is turning his back on everything he promotes.
Barbara November 29, 2012 at 11:24 AM
I have supported the Hackensack Riverkeeper in the past. No longer. Captain Bill you have lost me as a supporter and I will spread the word.
AML November 29, 2012 at 01:21 PM
I can answer for Mr. Sheehan as the answer is quite obvious......he compromised his integrity for the almighty dollar! It's amazing that his corporate donors are United Water, Hackensack Medical University Center AKA the Hekemian clan sitting on the HUMC board, and Inserra (ShopRite). Three conflicts of interests...must I say more? By the way, what credentials does Mr. Sheehan have? Perhaps the polluted water he traversed during the years affected his brain!
Mark G November 29, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Three Dollar Bill is a phony. From what I hear he is trying to establish himself in the northern part of the river. Just like Hudson County Politics has no place in Bergen County, neither does he. He is nothing more than a hack and a river rodent. This guys also chairs the BC open space funding, he needs to be sent packing. he is no friend to New Milford, Bergen County or the Hacky.
TommyIce November 29, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Miriam I would also like to suggest that people go to the link above that lists Riverkeeper's "sponsors" (both environment and corporate) and write them and suggest you will not support them since their support of Riverkeeper is in DIRECT CONFLICT with the values and direction we have for our future. MONEY SPEAKS volumes!
Howard Berner November 30, 2012 at 07:51 PM
The Riverkeeper did call me with the offer of the $1.5 million last year and gave me limited time to accept the offer. While I did not bring this offer to the Council, I did dicuss it with the Mayor and she convinced me that this was not enough to move forward. Not having put the pieces together yet, I didn't realize this is the same Mayor that sat at my dining room table in March 2011 and told me that she was all for the developer's plan, while the Council members did not even know what the plan was. Interestingly, the plan was not disclose to the Council members until the public meeting at the high school on April 11, 2011, which gave the council only 19 days to consider buying the property before the expiration of our right-of-first refusal date. The Mayor has been all for the developer's plan from the beginning and never gave serious help to fully determine if the town could buy the property. In fact, she always road blocked the effort by insisting that the town could not afford it; something she still maintains today. To her, SOD has been the enemy instead of recognizing that they are a voice of her constituenency that she has never represented.
Ulises November 30, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Thank you Councilman Berner for your honesty.
miriam pickett November 30, 2012 at 11:45 PM
I have always suspected that the Mayor has never been on the side of of the residents. Thank you Councilman Berner for giving us some insight into how we lost the opportunity to buy this property.
Lori Barton December 01, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I also thank you, Mr. Berner for your honesty and for a true look at how this was allowed to happen. I still believe that we can save this land from the developers to provide both flood relief and open space. I know you will continue the fight, too. I look forward to working with you. (And you just might be surprised to find that you can be even more effective when you are NOT a councilman!)
John DeSantis December 01, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Howard, Thank you for your honest and sincere account of the course of events that have led this town to the point we are at now. I wish you had been true to yourself from the very beginning. I understand the powers of pressure and persuasion that colleagues can place on a person. If only you had listened to your own heart, soul and mind things may have been different for all the folks in New Milford. Thank you again for your comments.
Ulises December 01, 2012 at 04:16 PM
I'm glad Howard Berner found his voice. His admission confirms what some of us knew already and preached for months on the Patch. To the Field of Dreams group, Subrizi is the reason why the field is not by the High School, period. I know you think she would never do that but she has. Once she met with Hekeminian at United Waters headquarters, right after she got elected, it was a done deal for this development to move forward. Now, it's our batter to set things right and make sure she's a one term mayor. SOD!
AML December 01, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Thank you Councilman Berner for having the integrity and wisdom for speaking the truth. I applaud you for your honesty and for setting the record straight. You are all the more greater for doing the right thing rather than keeping silent as a coward would have done; a coward would have taken the easy way out, zipped his lip, and not have revealed/exposed the truth. Very grateful for your honesty.
NM Resident December 02, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc, was FOUNDED by Bill Sheehan in 1997. Through GuideStar the public can log in and view the non-profit financial data. A premium account is required for some information. http://www.guidestar.org/organizations/22-3530496/hackensack-riverkeeper.aspx If not, to maintain non-profit status, organizations are required to make their financial data accessible to the public, which should be able to be satisfied by sending a letter request to: Mailing Address: Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc. 231 Main Street Hackensack, NJ 07601-7304 Some of the more upstanding transparent non-profits I support make this information readily accessible straight from their website. Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc, founded by Ben Sheehan in 1997, does not. Hackensack Riverkeeper, INC should know that residents of NM are now more educated about Ben's self proclaimed (and company supported) "position" as Riverkeeper and are very concerned about his recent comments.
NM Resident December 02, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Hackensack Riverkeeper, INC a company formed by Bill Sheehan in 1997, through which he maintains the non-governmental and non-publicly elected title of "Riverkeeper, lists both SHOPRITE AND UNITED WATER as corporate sponsors. http://www.hackensackriverkeeper.org/links.html
Kelly McKensy December 02, 2012 at 09:41 PM
This is all part of the bergen republicans effort to screw new Milford, it's clear, the new Milford mayor has a full time job with lath Donovan's board of social services, the hekimens are know to be big republican contributors, the Sierra club hacks all endorsed Donovan for her American dream support and Donovan now is failing to give open space money to save open space in new Milford,,,,, and now he town is becoming the next staten isldan,,,,imho
Michelle December 02, 2012 at 10:20 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcwz8-EfFYE
TommyIce December 03, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Jimmy, Howard's not a priest and his dining room is not a confessional.
james December 03, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Well that does say a lot about you doesn't it Jimmy? Setting the record straight is about the best thing that Mr. Berner can do for the NM residents and I applaud his honesty even if it is a little bit late.
TommyIce December 03, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Jim, they were talking about a "deal" that would affect every man, woman, child, dog, cat, squirrel (and every other breathing creature) in THIS TOWN--OUR TOWN. This was not a personal business deal. This was a public debacle. Howard speaking up, being transparent (finally) is very appropriate. It doesn't matter whether the participants involved are a woman or man either. Unless you're going with the "war on women" tactic from the Democratic playbook.
tony g2010 December 03, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Present
TommyIce December 04, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. I'm an independent. Make that an Independent with a capital I, because I think for myself and not lead by a party leash. Both parties have sold the residents of this town down the river. Or if you prefer a religious setting, lead us to the circles of Dante's Inferno. Which ring do you suppose we're on? Now I didn't call you out for calling a woman a lady. I called you out because it looks like, according to you, there should be different confidentiality standard for women and men. Would you have said the same things if it was Mr. Mayor rather than Madame Mayor. It seems commonplace now, for a certain breed of Democrat, to use the "lady" as a distraction when needed. I'm sure Ms. Subrizi is a big girl and can stand on her own without your help. But then again, being a JFK Democrat, I guess you can't help but harken back to Camelot. Since we're asking not what our country (community) can do for us, but what we can do for it, then Jimmy, we can only speak up when we find our voice. Thankfully Howard found his.
scott dzadik December 04, 2012 at 08:25 PM
how many more banks and resturants do you think that side of town needs.
scott dzadik December 04, 2012 at 08:32 PM
I do believe the river creeper uses the resevour for a fund raiser, i did it once, never again, the price for a paddle tour was in my opinion a rip off. had fun though.
scott dzadik December 04, 2012 at 08:52 PM
its called the reseivour challenge. you might have to correct the spelling. $25 a person, google it.

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