Under Water: West Milford, The Story of a Suburb, Ch. 10

West Milford finally got its power back last Friday – 12 days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the entire state.  Now, West Milford is a pretty big township – over 80 square miles – and with whole forests of trees, and forested roads, it’s understandable why it would take so long to get the electricity back on line.  Fortunately, West Milford residents didn’t have any power to hear N.J. Gov. Christie boast of making sure Newark was the first city to have its power restored.

The northern highlands of New Jersey, with its low but steep hills and valleys, are dotted with lakes and reservoirs.  Some of the lakes are leftovers from the Wisconsin Glacier.  Others are man-made, the result of sandpit excavations, like McDonald’s Lake in Pequannock, and some are natural lakes that were used as water sources for reservoirs.  Others are actual reservoirs – the Clinton, Canistear, Charlotteburg and Oak Ridge reservoirs, among others.

The biggest of these reservoirs is the Wanaque Reservoir, mainly located in Ringwood.  This body is so large that airline pilots headed for Newark Airport use it as a landmark when guiding their jets in.  “Oh.  So that’s its name,” one pilot remarked.

Although the reservoir is located in Ringwood, the watershed land from which its water is collected is in West Milford.  Fully one-third of West Milford is owned by the City of Newark.  The dam in Wanaque that holds the water back is named after the former mayor of Newark who oversaw the building of the dam – and the demolishment of entire towns, not to mention the rerouting of a road and a railroad.

According to Historic Passaic County:  An Illustrated History, by Edward A. Smyk (Wanaque Reservoir Dam:  A Monument to a Mayor’s Foresight):

“On a hot summer evening more than [80] years ago, Wanaque’s serenity was disturbed by an unusual number of visitors.  Traveling by auto and train, an estimated three thousand people arrived from across North Jersey to witness the impressive dedication of an engineering marvel:  [the] Wanaque Reservoir’s main dam.  The ceremony took place just about 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 14, 1931.

“Fountains illuminated with colored lights cast reflections on a large bronze tablet that stood directly in front of the huge dam.  Prominent was the bas-relief image of the late Newark Mayor Thomas Lantz Raymond, whose vision made possible the Wanaque project.

“Raymond is remembered for the fifteen-hundred-foot dam, as well as a boulevard [Raymond Boulevard] in Newark, named in his honor.  He died in 1928 while the reservoir was slowly filling to capacity.  It was Raymond who persuaded the state legislature to create the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission.  The commission in turn constructed [the] Wanaque Reservoir, and thus assured the communities of Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Clifton, Bloomfield, and Glen Ridge an ample supply of water.

“The project was complicated.  Although the northern highlands were considered as a possible source of water supply in 1879, the difficulties inherent in assembling the necessary watershed properties seemed insuperable.  When at last the project was a reality and construction had advanced, the commission confidently reported in 1925 that it was ‘a step far in advance of the private well or the spring piped through the hollow logs to the public watering place.’

“Creating the project, as the commission noted, represented ‘years of struggle and patient effort – struggle between ‘selfish’ interest, public and private, and patient effort on the part of foresighted, public spirited officials and citizens who realized the first need of any community is a copious supply of pure and wholesome water.

“When the project got under way in 1920, only the cities of Newark and Paterson were major participants.  Other communities joined a couple of years later.  The conception, design, and ultimate completion were staggering in scope.  Seventy buildings [other sources say there were more than 100] were demolished, and it was necessary to relocate seven miles of highway and six miles of railroad.  When the commission tried to purchase lands used for grazing purposes by the Hewitt family, it was confronted by solid opposition.  The issue was settled after considerable litigation before the work could move forward.

“On Feb. 13, 1930, construction neared completion.  Officials celebrated by driving a gold rivet in the facility’s main aqueduct.  In the final analysis, the project spanned a decade and was financed by a $26.5 million bond issue.  Thomas Raymond did not live long enough to see his cherished project completed, but his legacy was simply one of determination and perseverance.  Raymond’s other accomplishments included developing Newark’s seaport facilities and involvement in establishing one of the nation’s first municipal airport.”

Most of the towns Smyk mentioned were early suburbs, or actual sections of, the city of Newark until the residents fled Newark’s overbearing, theocratic government, the crime commensurate with its growth, and its pollution.  The 19th Century was the era of the Industrial Revolution.  The Passaic River was so polluted that it was responsible for several epidemics.

The northern highlands’ “selfish” private citizens were once again sucked into the maw of Newark’s problems.  Today, thanks to the Highlands Preservation Act, property owners in West Milford can’t develop their land.  They might be okay with that, but also West Milford has the highest property tax rates per capita in Passaic County, and Passaic County has the highest property tax rates in the nation.  Their tax money not only is sent to support the blighted city of Paterson (which recently voted in an all-Democrat Board of Chosen Freeholders – county representatives) and Passaic, but Newark as well.

Thanks to the Freeholder Flip, property owners may not only be permitted to develop their land but will be forced to do so, in the form of medium and high-density rental units to house the minorities spilling out of Newark’s suburbs, and Paterson’s, and into the hills.  Every town in the highlands has experienced a doubling of its Hispanic population – and in some towns, a flipping from red to blue.

Critics will cry charges of racism.  Where did the residents of the highlands get the idea that Newarkers might not make such good neighbors?  That they’re “moochers?”  What is it about the city of Newark that they don’t love?  Think – wow would you feel if a statue of the mayor of the city that’s caused your property taxes to skyrocket and that prevents you from building while still charging you property taxes, stood in the middle of your town?  How would you feel about the commissioners at the time the reservoir was built considered the residents of Stonetown, Hewitt, and Midvale  “selfish?”  The governor who considers you “racist” became you don’t want to support homeowners whose mortgages are in the same place your local residents’ homes were place, for their sakes:  underwater?

You can be certain that if West Milford Mayor Bettina Bieri’s statue was erected in Military Park in Newark, the police department would have to post a 24-hour guard around it to keep it from being torn down.

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at Newark’s worst week.  Ever.



Published in: on November 16, 2012 at 5:58 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

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