After "seeing the light" as Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan put it, the Board of Freeholders unanimously supported Freeholder Vice Chairman John Felice in his Tuesday decision to restore the $500,000 Open Space Trust Funding to the historic Hackensack Waterworks in Oradell during their meeting Wednesday.
“After much contemplation, consideration and comments from residents and historical advocates my final recommendation will be to concur with the original allocation of $500,000 to the Water Works project via resolution to the Board of Chosen Freeholders,” Felice said, reiterating his change of mind.
Felice had previously proposed removing the Waterworks funding and transferring it to Saddle River so as to reimburse the borough for the purchase of the Marker property near Rindlaub Park for a parking lot and street access to East Allendale Road. Felice had originally stated that he did not want to use taxpayers money for a flood-prone property.
The building's basements and underground cisterns flooded with water from the Hackensack River due to a lack of power to the buildings causing the sump pumps to be turned off. Both the Waterworks and Van Buskirk Island are owned by Bergen County following a 1990 sale by United Water.
"I would like to thank Freeholder Felice for seeing the light and restoring the funding to the Hackensack Waterworks project," Riverkeeper Capt. Bill Sheehan said. "This project has been hanging around the county for a long time and it needs to get moving. It takes a good man to admit [he was wrong]."
With the Freeholders blessing, the Board will hold a public hearing on the 2010 Open Space Trust Fund allocations on April 30. Per state statute, the Freeholders have to wait an additional 45 days from the public hearing before they could approve the funding allottments.
According to County Administrator Ed Trawinski, the county administration and counsel will research whether the timeline could be legally hastened so that the issue does not drag out.
"Part of the problem is that when we came in January 2011, all of the file cabinets had been emptied and there were no operating systems on the computers," Trawinski said. "There was no guidance left and we had to piece things together like detectives. While all of that was going on, County Executive Kathleen Donovan ordered a sustainability study by the Rutgers MBA program on how to best preserve the site."
"This process was eye opening by going to Saddle River to see the [Marker] property and listening about the project, but the real eye opener was going to see the Waterworks in Oradell," Freeholder Joan Voss said. "I commend Freeholder Felice for restoring the funding necessary."
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 $700,000 grant.
"I am delighted that Freeholder Vice Chairman John Felice has reconsidered his position and has removed his objections to the decision of the Open Space Trust Fund Board to fund the Water Works," New Milford Councilwoman Hedy Grant posted on Patch. "Clearly Freeholder Felice heard the voice of the people and the historic Water Works will receive the funds."
Previously the Oradell and New Milford Mayor and Council's approved resolutions urging the County Board to rethink their decision and move forward with the stabilization of the chimney smokestacks, repairing the fencing around the property, and closing the building to the public.
While the Oradell resolution was unanimously approved; New Milford passed it 4-2 with Council members 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.