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.

Anne Reynolds January 31, 2012 at 01:30 PM
It's being proposed by the Board of Freeholders that grant money allocated for the historic Water Works site in Oradell be transferred to reimburse Saddle River for a PARKING LOT adjacent to the semi-historic Marker property. This grant money is from the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund. It's somewhat ridiculous calling a PARKING LOT Open Space. The Open Space Trust Fund is for historic purposes. Since when is a parking lot HISTORIC????? The Water Works is a designated NJ Historic Site and a Save America's Treasure. It's on the list of New Jersey's Endangered Historic Sites and is eligible for National Historic Site designation. This is your Board of Freeholders, folks. Are you going to let them get away with this gross injustice and set as precedent that the Freeholders can move grant money around wherever and whenever they choose without regard for the original purpose of the allocated grant money? Maybe we can "Occupy the Freeholders". But even better, you can write a letter. Board of Directors Open Space, Recreation, Farmland & Historic Preservation Trust Fund Bergen County Department of Planning & Economic Development One Bergen County Plaza, Fourth Floor Hackensack, NJ 07601-7076 Let's write those letters. Anne Reynolds
Mary McElroy January 31, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Good suggestion Anne. If you go to the home page of the Bergen County Freeholders site you can email each freeholder directly. Send them all the same letter - just let them know that the 500k allocated from the OPEN SPACE TRUST FUND for the Water Works site should not go to a PARKING LOT in Saddle River. It took about 10 minutes for me to reach all of them via email. They need to hear from the people in Oradell, New Milford and River Edge.
Linda Besink January 31, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I attended this meeting and spoke briefly. Support for keeping the $500,000 allocation as dedicated to restoring the stacks at the historic Water Works site (thereby making the site much safer) was overwhelming both from the public and the Advisory Board. During each petition from the public, I noted Freeholder Felice's smug smirk. There is an agenda here, which I believe is he - and possibly other Freeholders - have their eyes on the Open Space Trust Fund as their own political slush fund. They are practically rubbing their hands together over it. Could this be the reason Freeholder Felice voted in support of pay-to-play rules? Many thanks to Oradell Councilwoman Donna Alonso for her vocal support both at this meeting and in general. The Oradell Mayor and Council, through more than one administration, have repeatedly requested the County to help make this site safe in the short term. Vandalism has always been a problem which affects everyone negatively and the dangers of bricks falling from the stacks requires urgent attention. Despite current perils, this site is a jewel for many disciplines of engineering, historical social impact and history in general. Sites that were in far worse disrepair have been restored, preserved and USED. Anyone who tells you otherwise has no conception of how historic preservation works. Linda Besink, Oradell Board of Directors, Water Works Conservancy Inc. & former Oradell Borough Council
Jennifer Rothschild January 31, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Freeholder Felice was the only one who voted "no" to pay-to-play reform, and he has given a talk and been quoted in the papers about his stance. Today Steve Lonegan wrote an op-ed in the Record on the same subject with the same nonsensical arguments against pay-to-play reform. Yes, there is likely a political connection to this money being transferred over to Saddle River. Four members of the advisory board voted against ALL funding in protest over this project, since they did not approve of the 100+ year old house being demolished and an impervious asphalt surface taking over most of this "open space." Does anyone know what "three letter word" the author is referring to in his first sentence?
Hedy Grant January 31, 2012 at 05:29 PM
The Water Works has significant historical significance not only locally but nationally and even internationally. To restore this magnificent site would be a feather in our caps and bring favorable notice to us worldwide. To remove the funds originally allocated by the BC Open Space Fund to this project for a worthier project (not that I can think of one offhand) might be understandable but to reallocate the funds to reimburse one of the wealthiest towns in BC for purchasing a property to create a parking lot is unconscionable. It is particularly galling that if the $500,000 grant is withdrawn from the Water Works, an additional $2.9 million in matching funds will also be lost. The Water Works must be repaired. Every day that goes by without preservation work is a day that works against the future of this historic site. I urge everyone to contact the Freeholders and to attend their March 21 meeting at which the Water Works allocation will most likely be discussed.
Eamon Harbord (Editor) January 31, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Hi Jennifer, It's "may". Per Hackensack Riverkeeper Capt. Bill Sheehan, the Freeholders 'may' approve the advisory board's recommendations, but are not required to.
Larry Bogert January 31, 2012 at 06:02 PM
The Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund was created to protect and create open space in Bergen County.  The Historic and Recreation designations were added after its approval.  Once again, money has been allocated for historic and in this case safety issues from our open space fund ... although his methods were inappropriate and the entire advisory board should have been involved, Freeholder Felice correctly identified a misappropriation of public funds. Flooding is a major issue with the Waterworks, and stabilizing the buildings as part of a long term development of the property will not solve that issue.  The mere presence of these structures in the middle of the Hackensack River has helped aggravate the flooding situation downstream, as exhibited just this past year.  The buildings will continue to deteriorate even with the funds requested, and this is a misdirection of open space monies as it does NOT address open space creation or recovery. The Patch article left out the several members of the public and the advisory committee members who spoke against keeping the open space grants for both the Waterworks and the River pathway ... the issue of procedure was agreed upon, but NOT the grants - in fact it was stated that it was a split decision last July for the allocations chosen. Larry Bogert, Oradell NJ
Larry Bogert January 31, 2012 at 06:04 PM
If safety is the real issue, why are we using public funds for open space for this instead of simply having the County fix these buildings via its safety or public works department? -- it IS County property.  That would be faster and would not require a request for prioritized funds. On the other hand, if the open space request is part of long term funding for the development of the Waterworks - and I stress development - what is the ultimate cost?  Several years ago, former Mayor DeBari, who was BC Parks Commissioner at the time and sat on the BC Open Space committee, stated at a Trust Fund meeting that the cost of renovation of the Waterworks buildings would be $30 million.  That was the projection then - how much is it now?  Should we really be dumping public funds into a money pit? Larry Bogert, Oradell NJ
Larry Bogert January 31, 2012 at 06:06 PM
One last point - the Rutgers project under Dr. Beth Ravit is currently doing a financial sustainability study for the Waterworks development - basically a business plan that the Open Space committee requested, and discussed in last night's hearing.  Dr. Ravit stated that they are looking at a public-private partnership to acquire enough funds to reduce the public load - she feels that this is "promising".  But does a private component have any similarity to the intense commercialization of the other Water Company property right across the street in New Milford, currently the hot and contested issue in that town?  No, New Milford is not very happy about the development proposed there, and I'm not too sure they would support a Waterworks development if it needed to go that route to pay for the renovation and reconstruction of the existing structures. We all want and love the idea of a passive park with nature trails, canoeing and other public activities on Van Buskirk Island in the Hackensack River.  That should be our goal.  I'm sure we can obtain a nice Open Space grant to accomplish this. With regards, Larry Bogert Oradell, NJ
Linda Besink January 31, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Safety is only ONE issue, albeit an urgent one. Any and all work done here does not need to be done all at once, but in phases. Most historic sites are done in phases. And restoration is NOT development. No one who knows about historic preservation would label a historic site as a "money pit."
Linda Besink January 31, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Speaking as a Water Works Conservancy Board member, WWC has never advocated for any sort of "commercialization" or development. We are opposed to the plans for major development across the road in New Milford. As far as I know the Rutgers plan will focus on self-sustainability for the historic site. WWC has also always advocated for no public tax monies. I've never been sure what "passive" means when describing a park. It would seem to denote a place that is unused by anyone - is this realistic? In any case, WWC has always advocated for a park setting for the historic buildings.
Larry Bogert January 31, 2012 at 07:28 PM
If the WWC is opposed to commercialization or development within the Van Buskirk Island county park, that is a plus. As exhibited with other historic sites of this magnitude, however, commercialization is very difficult if not impossible to avoid, and I would be quite interested in how that can be done with the Waterworks. A related issue is the "park setting for the historic buildings" - rather than a park with the historic buildings as a centerpiece or draw. There is a difference, especially as the Waterworks buildings and settling tank occupy a large portion of the island ... the buildings run the full length of the island and create a virtual wall that has prevented many people from even realizing that this IS an island, in the middle of the Hackensack River. A passive park is one that is used by many, not few - but it has no commercial or entertainment functions. I hope that is the goal here.
Linda Besink January 31, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Larry thank you for the explanation of "passive." It's been a term I've wondered about for quite some time. Maybe there is a better, more accurate term, I don't know. Do you know the coagulation basin is one of the more important historical aspects of this complex? Tearing it down (which would be a stratospheric cost) would also impinge on the historic significance.
Larry Bogert January 31, 2012 at 08:14 PM
That is a good point, Linda. One of the serious issues, I believe, is how to preserve that historic significance with such a large off-limits structure in a non-operative mode, as there would be a safety issue once the public has access. There have been several interesting proposals - one was a partial teardown to see the workings from ground level - that would enhance the educational component of the project, while increasing park acreage. But of course the WWC would need some flexibility in their desire to keep everything intact.
Anne Reynolds January 31, 2012 at 08:28 PM
In response to the flooding issue: Let's put that one to rest, OK? All the years that the Hackensack Water Company occupied the buildings, there was never, ever any flooding in the buildings. The only reason why there has been flooding in the buildings since the County took over the site is because the County did not over see the site. Flood proof doors were not kept closed. The County turned off the electricity so the pumps that had worked over all those years did not turn on. So let's put the blame for the flooding in the buildings where it belongs--squarely on the County. Anne Reynolds Anne Reynolds
Denise January 31, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Saddle River is ABLE to take care of it's own......IF I weren't such a BUFF to turn the WW's building into a passive park, I would say demolish it and put Hekemian/Inserra's new Shop-Rite there, right in the middle of the flood zone, however, that would make the Conservancy & the Oradellian's unhappy, but take care of the garbage that is being proposed in New Milford.........
Ulises January 31, 2012 at 10:18 PM
LMA January 31, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Denise is absolutely right to have said that "Saddle River can take care of its own." Let the wealthy residents cough up the money for the parking lot. The residents of Saddle River are not middle-class residents and I would bet that 99.9% of the residents can come up with the money in no time. This is another example of the unfairness of our system; for the Bergen County Board of Freeholders to even consider the option of allocating the money to Saddle River for a parking lot is absolutely ludicrous! Once again, money and wealth have the upper hand!
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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