By Briana Vannozzi
On Garret Mountain in Passaic Valley, residents are fighting a $135 million plan to drain three open-air reservoirs and implant concrete tanks — the tab to be picked up by customers.
“Our residents are concerned about their water rates and the water rates throughout the service area of the Passaic Valley Water Commission in addition to how their home values would be affected,” said Woodland Park mayor Keith Kazmark.
Kazmark is mayor of Woodland Park, one of about 30 municipalities that would be affected by the federal EPA mandate. It requires utilities that store pretreated drinking water in open-air reservoirs to cover them or go through additional treatment.
“The lack of transparency, the lack of public input has really been a major concern of mine,” said Kazmark.
Opponents say the Passaic Valley Water Commission — which controls and disperses the water — and the state DEP have been operating in secrecy. They worry the tanks will mar the scenic landscape and burden homeowners with unaffordable water rates.
“While the Passaic Valley Water commission is saying that draining the reservoirs and replacing them with concrete tanks is the best option. I’m not sure that it is,” said NJCDC CEO Bob Guarasci.
They’ve managed to persuade the water commission to adopt a resolution asking for a delay — possibly up to two years — in carrying out the project. Now, it’s up to the state DEP to grant or reject it.
“The reason for this delay is so the public can have a seat at the table after seven years of design,” said Alan Weinberg of NJCDC.
Here’s the timeline of how this all came to be. In 2006 the EPA passed the federal regulation. The following year, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection asked the water commission to complete a study looking at the feasibility and if there were any alternatives. The commission finished that study in 2013 and signed a consent agreement with the DEP to move forward with the project.
The status is still unknown but the EPA tells us it does not recommend delaying the project.
And as of this afternoon the DEP had yet to receive the request from the water commission.
“We would have to assess what they ask for if they send us something. EPA has enacted this across the country. We’re just implementing the federal requirement,” said NJDEP Press Director Larry Ragonese.
“We have been talking to PVWC and have been encouraging them to work a little bit closer with the community of Paterson,” said Ragonese.
The Water Commission didn’t return our repeated requests for comment, but the EPA says representatives will be heading to a Nov. 17 public meeting to address worries and explain the regulation, which opponents say is a small victory in their fight to be heard.