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Waterworks Building Set to Lose $500,000 to Saddle River Parking Lot

The Bergen County Freeholders, who could make a final decision on March 21, have proposed reallocating funds from stabilizing the Oradell buildings to reimburse Saddle River for the creation of a parking lot

All with a single three-letter word, the Hackensack Waterworks buildings could officially lose $500,000 in Bergen County Open Space funding to a proposed parking lot in Saddle River.

Over the summer the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund Committee, comprised of residents, government officials, and environmentalists, recommended that $500,000 of the available $6.9 million be set aside for the stabilization of the Waterworks smokestacks.

This fall, the Board of Freeholders chose to reallocate that funding 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.

"One thing that has taken place is that our advice, we've basically been told 'thanks for all the work' but we're not taking your advice," Hackensack Riverkeeper Capt. Bill Sheehan said. Sheehan is a member of the Advisory Committee. "The problem is that the Freeholders 'may' approve the advisory board's recommendations. That word 'may' should be 'will'."

According to Saddle River Council President Bruce Walenczyk, the Marker property purchase will benefit not only Saddle River but residents of the surrounding towns that also utilize Rindlaub Park for youth recreation.

"It is a viable project because it enhances the adjacent park," Walenczyk said. "The entrance to the park is through an easement for a one-way driveway. By purchasing the property, we are providing an alternate entrance and improving safety conditions."

For two hours, members of the advisory board and Freeholder John Felice listened as Bergen County residents pleaded for the restoration of funding so that public safety could be maintained. Previously, bricks along the smokestack have crumbled down to the street level on New Milford Avenue. The building is located midway between and .

"The area is in a fragile condition because it has not been taken care of in years. It's deteriorating," Oradell resident Stephen Gellis said during the hearing. "I'm concerned this building will be demolished through neglect. It's the same as allowing a wrecking ball to come into the site and remove the buildings."

Closter resident Irene Stella informed the advisory board that members of the public, including children, can access the interior of the buildings by climbing a ladder that is propped up against the fence line.

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.

"A resident for 17 years, I've watched the property deteriorate due to a lack of activity," Oradell Councilwoman Donna Alonso said. "Recently Oradell had to write a letter to the County to have the fencing repaired after the last flood as a public safety issue. At our last meeting with the County, we were told there are plans to open the facility as a walking park. The only thing standing in the way is shoring up the smokestacks."

"This project benefits everyone," New Milford Councilwoman Hedy Grant said. "New Milford feels just as proud of the Waterworks as all of those from Oradell. I find the process in changing from $500,000 to zero creates a loss of faith and trust in the process." 

Complicating the issue is that the $500,000 Open Space Trust Funds is part of a matching grant from the state. The project already received a $750,000 historic preservation grant from the state to stabilize the property and is in line to get another .

"After the storms in September 2011 and seeing how the Waterworks flooded, I could not support additional taxpayer money to be used for this project," committee liaison Freeholder John Felice said. 

In response to residents concerns of public safety Norwood Councilman Allen Rapaport, who sits on the advisory committee, stated he would contact County Executive Kathleen Donovan and County Police Chief Brian Higgins to resolve the public's access.

The Board of Freeholders could make a final decision on the 2010 Open Space Trust Fund allocations during their March 21 meeting at the earliest.

Lori Barton February 01, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Historic buildings can never be replaced. We have a jewel in our own backyard that should be restored and used for educational purposes. How sad that these funds are being considered for a parking lot. I will be following Mary's advice and writing to each one of the freeholders. As far as flooding, Anne is absolutely right. There used to be houses in that area as well and they never flooded. It is development on watershed property that is the problem. I can't understand how any one can even think about developing the property adjacent to NMHS as anything other than recreational space. That is the only development that will not exacerbate flooding conditions.
Maggie Harrer March 15, 2012 at 03:23 PM
It was noted at the original 2001 hearing regarding the future of the Hackensack Water Works before the New Jersey Historic Preservation Advisory Board that many, if not most, historic sites deal with flooding because they were frequently built near to rivers for transportation and for water.  It was also noted that Historic New Bridge Landing is on the same flood plain as the Water Works (the buildings are in fact lower at New Bridge than the buildings at the Water Works - and the flooding at New Bridge far more severe), as is the Bergen County Sheriff Office and a number of other County buildings in Hackensack. Regarding the "Flooding" question, expert testimony during the 2001 hearing stated that flooding could be "easily handled with appropriate preparations and it should not be used as a reason to destroy this invaluable historic site nor prevent a museum and park to be built on the site and opened to the public."   The Hackensack Water Works Company's Former President, George Haskew, testified the buildings were built to withstand water and in the entire 110 year history of the plant, it had never flooded in the INTERIOR, and it operated uninterrupted from 1882 to 1990, when it was finally closed down and donated to the County.  Submarine-type flood doors and sandbagging protected the interior for 110 years.   The Fairmont Water Works in Philadelphia contains a successful, working museum and a restaurant and floods in the interior 3 - 4 times annually.  
Maggie Harrer March 15, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Bergen County has a rare gem in the Historic Hackensack Water Works, as NJ Governor Christie noted when he signed a bill August 15, 2011, authorizing a new $704,000 NJ Historic Trust Fund grant to Bergen County to stabilize and restore the buildings: “It’s important to recognize that rehabilitating our historic treasures serves an economic purpose in addition to attracting tourism, spurring neighborhood revitalization and encouraging economic growth in our state,” Christie said as he signed the bill yesterday. “Preserving these cultural and historical sites is critical to ensuring that future generations have the opportunity to learn more about New Jersey’s place in history.” Bergen County has an opportunity to create a world-class historic site, museum and natural park as a monument to the history of pure, safe water, showing New Jersey's leadership in this vital area, for the benefit of the citizens of Bergen County and the greater New Jersey as well as the nation.   It will also create new jobs in construction and restoration fields at the Water Works, staffing creates more jobs.  Restoring the Steam pumps on site could be used to create a jobs-training program for steam engineers, which has already been discussed with several educational institutions.
Maggie Harrer March 15, 2012 at 03:52 PM
You are joking right? The cost of demolishing this site is $25million or MORE and there are NO GRANTS for demolition. Restoring it, not developing it, can be funded by grants and will result in a world class historic site in the heart of Bergen County
Maggie Harrer March 15, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Sadly, Larry, you have never understood that the County will NEVER allow this to be a "passive" park. It can't afford it, and it can't afford to pay the $25 million in demolition cost....and that could be a low estimate. Since you don't value history and you don't understand the incredible heritage for the children of Oradell and future children, perhaps you should find a focus that allows you to be positive.

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