Proposed Well Protested by Angry Fourth Ward Residents

An artist’s rendering of the proposed pump house at Carey’s Woods in Montclair’s Nishuane Park

Montclair held the second of two public meetings on January 17 regarding the proposed well at Carey’s Woods in Nishuane Park, and Montclair Water Bureau Director Gary Obszarny got an earful.

For more than three hours, as Obszarny sat with two consultants from Suburban Consulting Engineers on either side of him, angry residents of the Fourth Ward leveled one objection after another, sometimes going to the microphone two or three times to make their case. Their councilor, Dr. Renée Baskerville, sat silently throughout the proceedings, but she was already known to share her constituents’ opposition to the project.

This second public meeting, which assessed the environmental impact of the well, followed the equally contentious January 16 meeting that looked at diverting Green Acres land for the project.

The well in Nishuane Park, first dug in 1983 but undeveloped since, would add capacity to Montclair’s own water supply and allow the Water Bureau to buy less later from the New Jersey American Water company.   The proposed pump house would take up less than half an acre in Carey’s Woods.  Obszarny calculated that it would increase the amount of well water used in Montclair, currently at 20 percent, and thus give the township more control of its own water supply and provide a source of revenue by selling surplus water to other communities.  Montclair would sponsor the project and have it financed through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program.

The increased capacity anticipates future development, and Obszarny also cited the improved circulation of water throughout the township as a benefit, with the Nishuane well pumping colder, fresher water into the system and improving the flow in the area between the high and middle pressure zones that converge near the western edge of town.  He acknowledged that there would be contaminants from the ground water but that they would be no different from contaminants found in reservoir water.

“The reservoir has issues once in awhile, too.  You’ve seen algae blooms, they’ve had to crank up their chlorine, they’ve had other issues,” he said.  “Everybody has treatment plants.  Things happen everywhere.”

The opposition, though, was heated, as Obszarny and engineer Andrew Holt of Suburban Consulting Engineers – the firm that is designing the project – endured comments about everything from the unattractiveness of the pump house to the possible destruction of unspoiled land. Some residents were upset about the two-week period given to submit comments to the Department of Environmental Protection, similar to the two-week period allowed for comments on Green Acres.  Many more were upset about copies of the report on the project being available only for review in the Township Clerk’s office.  Resident Lingard Knutson said that the report should have been made more accessible.

Montclair Water Bureau director Gary Obszarny (seated in center) flanked by Andrew Holt (left) and Dave Clark of Suburban Consulting Engineers, plus a stenographer

“I cannot believe that it was so expensive for Montclair or you consultants to put that on the website for us to take look at, especially since you’ve had it since October 2012!” she said.

Patty Grunther of Irving Street expressed dismay over the emphasis of the technical specifications of the proposed well at the expense of the issue of having the well at all.  “You have not given us a compelling case for having to build this well.  You haven’t even given us a chance to be involved in the process until now, and we have two weeks,” she said.

“I don’t blame you,” she told Holt in an ironic tone.  “You’re trying to get your well built.”  She even called Obszarny a “water nerd” for focusing more on how much water to deliver than how a well would affect the community.

Other residents bashed the design in the computer-generated renderings.  Design professor Mac Adams said that the architecture was that of a building “designed for no place,” while Audrey Hawley cited the possibility of cost overruns and change orders ballooning the estimated $2 million price tag.  Ms. Hawley asked if adjacent communities or Montclair State University – the campus of which is mostly in Passaic County – would absorb costs for a project more beneficial to them at the expense of Montclair taxpayers.

Jarvis Hawley – who read out 22 questions Obszarny should address in considering the well at the January 16 meeting – read them out again, with two questions added for good measure. Among them: if inadequate water pressure inside the lines and mains would contribute to water breaks; if new wells were needed with new pump engines and electronic controls; and what kind of security the water department provided for its facilities. Obszarny seemed frustrated.

William Scott was one of several residents who cited a similar project undertaken on the other end of the park along nearby Oak Street – an expansion of the maintenance yard for Nishuane Park that was promised to be non-intrusive.  The maintenance yard, Scott said, was expanded without any concern for the residents’ objections, and that the passive area that was supposed to be there for recreation is gone.  Scott said that residents are being told now what they were told when the maintenance yard was expanded – that loss of open space would be minimal – and he urged the water department to find another way of providing more water without developing the Carey’s Woods well.

“Yes, good drinking water is great,” Scott said, “but open space is something we cannot replace.”

Montclair Environmental Affairs coordinator Gray Russell gave the only voice of support for the well at the interminable public meeting, citing the expected population growth in New Jersey and the need to develop more compact, sustainable communities and reduce sprawl.  Referring to his own column in the January 17 Montclair Times, Russell said the well would prepare Montclair to deal with possible disruptions of reservoir water supplies and allow the township to plan its development going forward.

“We’ve got to make livable, beautiful, desirable and attractive communities that are sustainable and prepared, and have resources, including clean potable water for a growing population, or we are living in the past,” he said.

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  1. Ms. Grunther is right. She is the voice of reason. The proposed building is an stupid masonry shack and it pains me to see that the township feels that the fourth ward is just a valueless waste land where you can just plop down anything. Instead, Carey’s Woods and the brook are an extremely valuable feature in town. It was a Baldwin property and then purchased by Llewellyn Haskell to serve as the entrance of the original Llewellyn Park project. The fourth ward has the most important inventory of architecture and history in town…. doesn’t the township care? Whats sad is that the Carey Woods were donated by Carey’s who were very generous benefactors of the community. Nearby, there was a very large victorian orphanage that the Carey’s donated. Instead, here, the township is slighting the community with their project instead of doing good.

  2. Sitting on that water and not using it to benefit of the community is irresponsible. As residents across the state demand oficials look for ways to control cost, relying less on purchasing water is the right thing to do. Create revenue and control costs but not in my nieghborhood.

  3. frankgg, a quick drive through the fourth ward indicates that the town wrote off that ward a long, long time ago…

  4. A lttle help from architects/designers (not engineers) could turn this project around visually. No $ for architects – then what about using the students who take architecture classes at the HS; orient the building to install solar panels (depending on surrounding trees); get rid of drive/parking & use turf blocks that allow grass to grow; general landscaping could hide/mitigate the building within the woods. And get rid of the bird’s eye view – no one is ever going to fly over this. None the less, the 4th ward does seems to get dumped on…

  5. Lets have an honest and open discussion on our water utility bills to start. The total water billings paid by Montclair residents have grown over 60% during the past 8 years. What is driving the increases?

    Could it be the salary and wages being allocated to the utilities out of the operating budget? OPRA requested materials shows that water utility wages should only be $800k, yet the budget docs on-line are showing $1.8M being paid for wages out of this utility alone.

    When the org chart wages for all town employees are compared to budget docs, over $2.5M of public safety wage expenses are being run through the water and sewer utilities.

    The number of employees earning over $100k, is #1 in Essex County. Our public safety expense on a per capita basis is one of the highest in Essex County.

    Help maintain the town’s natural resources and open space by researching why our budget numbers are so much higher than surrounding towns especially given services being provided on a comparative basis.

  6. Of coarse Gray Russel will support it, isn’t his pay under evaluation by the Town Council?

    I agree with William Scott “…but open space is something we cannot replace.”

  7. It’s so very interesting that the people who are now screaming about saving open space are the same people who just couldn’t wait to develop the Wildwood open space.

    And, why are public safety wage expenses being run through the water and sewer utilities??

  8. The explanation given was that this money is for employees needed when utility work is being done. Uniformed personnel are needed to be there with a town owned car for safety. Many towns use non uniformed personnel others have suggested using crossing guards. Assuming the average salary per municipal employee is approx. $85k, this would be 14 full time employees designated to utility work all year.

    Does anyone know if utilities are subject to the 2% cap? Perhaps shifting it eases the burden of staying within the cap on the muni budget.

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