Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Wait May End for Unfilled Flood Panel

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Wait May End for Unfilled Flood Panel

Article excerpt

Nearly a year and a half after elected officials from Bergen and Rockland counties announced they were forming a bi-state commission to address flooding issues in the Hackensack River basin, the panel has yet to hold a single meeting. In fact, several of the seats remain vacant, as officials have failed to make the necessary appointments.

The lack of movement has generated frustration among some who pushed for the commission -- and for those who have been appointed to the panel.

"We have yet to meet -- there's been no contact," said Gilbert Hawkins of Leonia, who was appointed in March by New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. "There have not even been any meetings set or the concept of naming a chairperson. To be appointed to a committee in name and not be able to do anything is very frustrating. It's like a phantom committee."

The task force is supposed to study ways to reduce chronic flooding in Bergen County and its upstream neighbor on the Hackensack, Rockland County in New York. The panel is also supposed to study how best to reduce flooding along tributaries of the Passaic River that flow through both states -- the Mahwah, Ramapo and Saddle rivers -- as well as the Sparkill Brook and Sparkill Creek, which flow into the Hudson River.

The legislation passed in the two states to create the commission said that it must issue a report by June 2016 on its activities and that the commission would expire June 30.

But because the group has yet to meet, New York amended its legislation to say that the panel must prepare a report on activities within two years after its first meeting, said Chris Bresnan, chief of staff to Ken Zebrowski, an assemblyman from Rockland County who pushed for the panel.

"We in the Legislature can pass bills that are very good but which take others to implement," said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D- Teaneck. "Sometimes things get lost and people forget about them. I would hope that the remaining appointments will be made soon."

The legislation that established the commission lists specific elected officials in both states who were to make direct appointments.

Governor Christie made the first appointment to the commission in July 2012, naming Roy D. Ostrom of Upper Saddle River. In March, Hawkins was appointed, and Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr., R- Union, appointed Raymond Cywinski, the mayor of Demarest.

The delay "has been frustrating," said Cywinski, who works as an expert on environmental and land-use regulation for United Water, the for-profit utility that operates four reservoirs along the Hackensack. Three of those provide drinking water to 800,000 people in Bergen and Hudson counties. The other provides water to Rockland County.

"I'm anxious to start," he said. "There are changes we could suggest to help out the flooding issue," from the way the water supply is regulated by each state to proper development in floodplains. …

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