Treatment plant fuss should end with a BANG
By Mike Kelly
One sound is missing from the decade-long din of debate over an old water treatment plant in Oradell.
Yes, gentle readers, the sound of demolition. Let's blow up this big old hulk of a building. Enough already.
No one wants to destroy a piece of history. The old Hackensack Water Treatment Plant definitely has its historical significance. This plant was a national prototype for water filtration.
But that's just the point - this fight is about water filtration. It's not worth a decade-long war.
No one doubts the value of clean water. But in the long perspective of American history, water filtration is, well, just that. It's important. But it falls into the same category as, say, asphalt.
Yes, asphalt was important to America. You could even say asphalt did more than almost anything else to make America what it is, for better or worse. But is asphalt worth an "educational center"?
Why is there such a fuss to preserve the machinery that gave us clean water? To even hint at such a question is to incur the wrath of historical preservationists, definitely a passionate lot.
"A safe supply of water was essential," said one, speaking as if he had just discovered the Earth is round. Said another: "It tells our future generations how important water was."
The preservationists also refer to this plant as a prime example of "industrial Romanesque" architecture. Hey, folks, this is a brick factory building. What's next? The "Taj Mahal of filtration plants"?
Such statements illustrate a basic problem with the long and winding debate over the water treatment plant - far too many otherwise bright people have lost perspective. They believe that anyone who utters even the slightest criticism of this old building is a modern-day Visigoth. Today, by golly, they'll demolish the water treatment plant! Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow, they'll burn all the old books in the local library.
This fuss started 10 years ago, when the Hackensack Water Co. gave the treatment plant to Bergen County. The treatment plant was obsolete, and the water company figured the county might like to turn the 13-acre site into a park.
The county dropped the ball, refusing to come forward with a strong vision, instead seeming to look to the public for ideas.
Enter a non-profit group calling itself the Water Works Conservancy Inc. - definitely a group with a vision. The conservancy, citing all manner of research about water filtration, offered a plan to convert the building into an educational center.
This was one of those plans that sounds terrific - until you take a look at the cost. The conservancy figures it needs almost $15 million, and the group's head, Maggie Harrer, says she could easily raise the money.
"We could have had it done by now," she insists.
Maybe so. But considering not enough money was raised to refurbish Ellis Island, you have to ask if Harrer is too optimistic. When you hear her also argue that America would lose "100 years of irreplaceable technology" if the plant is demolished, you understand why her critics say she seems to exaggerate.
The tragedy is that this land could easily be a beautiful park, a woodsy island in the river, with no distractions. One thing stands in the way - that brick treatment plant.
You heard it here first.