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NEWS REPORT: April 2023 USR Mayor & Council Meeting

Due to seasonal holidays, this meeting was held on March 30, 2023

Police Officer Colin Gurney takes Oath of Allegiance as he is promoted to Sergeant of USRPD
Mayor Fardanesh administered the oath of office to Police Officer Colin Gurney on his promotion to Sergeant. He was accompanied by his family and fellow officers from the USR Police Department and area police departments. 

Bills Paid
Bills in the amount of $4,308,822.65 were approved to be paid. 

Fire Ordinance Approved to Repeal and Replace Chapter 51
Ordinance 2-23 calls for the Upper Saddle River Fire Code Official to enforce the fire code and regulations”in all buildings, structures, premises, and places within the established boundaries of Upper Saddle River, other than owner occupied one- and two-family dwellings, and shall faithfully comply with the requirements of the Act and the Uniform Fire Code.”

New Bond Issue Ordinance Approved on Public Improvements

A new, $1,200,000 bond issue ordinance was introduced tonight for “various public improvements and new information technology and telecommunications equipment.”

This ordinance will be available for public comment at the next mayor & council meeting to be held on March 30, 2023 due to conflicts with seasonal holidays.

1. $890,000 in Additional Improvements to One Lake Street Park Athletic Complex: This athletic park was initially approved by the Mayor and Council on April 1, 2021, for a cost to taxpayers of $5.5 million. 15-year bonds were issued for the same.

Costs rose again the following year in 2022, when $2,225,000 in supplemental funding was approved by the mayor and council. This brought the park cost to $7,725,000.15-year bonds were issued for the same.

At tonight’s meeting, an additional $890,000 in appropriations and funding bond issue for the park were introduced. The bond ordinance request did not provide information on what the additional appropriations were specifically for. 

2. $210,000 in Additional Improvements to Gabion Wall at 31 Possum Trail: A further $200,000 supplemental bond issue and $10,000 deposit was introduced this evening to additionally repair a gabion wall at 31 Possum Trail damaged as a result of Tropical Storm Ida in addition to $400,000 previously appropriated and adopted on October 6, 2022. 

3. $100,000 for the Acquisition of New Information Technology and Telecommunications Equipment

This ordinance provides for an updated computer server at borough hall and peripheral equipment. A 5-year bond issue of $92,400 with a $7,600 down payment is requested.

When asked by a resident as to the total cost of these improvements, a councilman responded that it would cost $42/per household per year for 15 years. 

April 28, 2023 was declared Arbor Day, and April was declared Distracted Driver Month in USR. 

Public Comments: Many USR residents express concern over drinking water contamination, sewage spills, water quality, water levels
Many Upper Saddle River residents addressed the mayor and council regarding their serious concerns about sewage spills and contamination into the local aquifer and Saddle River . Forty-two year USR resident Frank Sonnenberg stated that there had been six recorded sewage spills into the Saddle River in the past year alone. He asked the mayor and council members whether they are alerting residents to test their well water on a regular basis, and what plans there are to inform residents so that children do not play in water with pathogenic bacteria. He asked why the developers of the new mikvah under construction on Hillside Avenue, just over the NY border in Airmont, which had been approved for and had plans for a public water supply line with Veolia (formerly Suez) had instead dug three commercial size wells to supply its showers and ritual baths. Hillside Avenue in the town of Airmont, Rockland County, NY, backs up to Upper Saddle River’s northern border. Mr Sonnenberg asked the council what residents should do if their wells become polluted or if their wells run dry. 

Mayor Fardanesh, in response, stated that this is an ongoing issue and that the borough has been in contact with the borough engineer, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and have engaged outside counsel. 

USR’s Borough Attorney Robert Regan stated that the borough had challenged the mikvah developers in court based upon “blatant lies and misrepresentation by the applicant, and we are now in the appellate division.”  The mikvah applicant had misrepresented in its plans, he said, that it would connect a water line to Veolia/Suez’s public water but the developers instead dug three commercial size wells. 

“What is plan B” Mr. Sonnenberg asked, if our wells go dry?

Ellen Greenberg, a USR resident for forty years, said that the wells at the mikvah will have an effect not only on our wells in northern USR but also all over town. “This word is not getting out to the people…USR is not doing the right thing,” she said.

Resident William Spencer gave an update since making his public comments at last month’s mayor and council meeting, reporting that there are three issues: 

  1. Contamination of the Saddle River caused by raw sewage overflows from the mikvah’s output being added to an already-overloaded sewer main and pumping station.
  2. The water table used by all USR residents will be lowered if the Suez/Veolia water line does not go into the mikvah, and the developer instead draws water from the three wells that have already been installed.
  3. There is a high risk to water quality in the aquifer from leachates emanating from the extremely high density cemetery on Hillside Ave, with 20,000 burial plots planned. Burials there have begun.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report describes risks to water sources, from cemeteries, including how the poliovirus can be carried through the soil after burials. Mr. Spencer stated,” there is an outbreak of polio in Rockland County, NY. in addition to the cemetery risk, another major transmission route of polio is by sewage, and this could be in our river and in our aquifer. Covid-19 can also be found in sewage.” There is therefore a risk of Covid-19 and polio both from from the mikvah sewage overflows and from the high density cemetery.

He posed this question to the mayor and council, “Will the developers of this mikvah pay the cost of Upper Saddle River wells” if they need to be drilled deeper to access water. “What will the borough need to pay to install municipal water lines and what would that do to our tax rates?” he inquired.

Mr. Spencer estimated the developers of the mikvah could earn approximately $1.8 million per year and the cemetery developer will earn $80 million to $149 million on the 20,000 burials there. He asked, “If USR needs to install municipal water at huge cost, and these developers are making millions of dollars, that appears to be an inequity.”

Mr. Spencer suggested that the borough further ask the cemetery developers to reduce the density of the burial plots and that they plant a 20-foot wide band of deep rooted trees and bushes, under the direction of third party experts, around the cemetery to mitigate the effects of the mass burials on the area environment.  These remedies are discussed in the WHO report.

Councilman Richard Lyons suggested that the council set up a committee or organization to meet routinely on these issues. Mayor Fardanesh stated that the borough has hired a special counsel to work with local and state authorities. 

Jennifer Hoffman of Barnfield Court addressed the mayor and council saying,”our soil, water, and air could be toxified” by these developments…“our gardens could be contaminated and in jeopardy.”

Resident Larry Klein added, “Our health and our children’s health could be affected. My chief concern is that this is on your radar. I don’t think that you are as concerned about this, or that you have elevated this to a higher issue. We are in the middle of a slow moving train wreck.” 

Resident Tara James stated that her property directly backs up to the mikvah. Her concerns centered on lot coverage, flooding over of the parking lot in back of the mikvah and lights on the parking lot that could be on until 10 pm. The builders need to be following the laws, she said. 

Resident Chaya Spencer stated that her family had installed a water filtration system in their home and they’ve had their water tested. “But there is a concern,” she said, “that we are not hearing from the town government about what can be done.” She asked that the USR government talk with its residents and protect its residents. 

Resident Peggy Jablonski spoke next at the microphone, stating that USR wells have dried up in the past when residents filled their swimming pools.  She added that USR sued Rockland County years ago about the sewage overflows, but there have been so many more spills of late due to the overtaxed sewage system. 

Resident Eric Friis commented that this situation reminded him of the water runoff from the Toll Brothers’ development at Apple Ridge Golf Course a few years ago. He also commented that the USR Shade Tree Commission had permitted trees to be clear cut on a property on West Saddle River Rd. He said that the cutting of so many trees was egregious. 

Resident Lauren Morin said that she agrees with residents who have already spoken that a coalition needs to be set in motion about the water situation. “This is a huge issue for this town,” she said. 

Resident Christopher Reichert stated, “we need help from our State government, and from the NJDEP. We need to write letters and inundate them with letters. “

Councilman Richard Lyons, in response, said, “We feel the gravity of what is being said. It is on us to reconvene.”

Public Comment: New resident says borough building inspector not community minded
Resident David Levine addressed the mayor and council at the microphone about the fact that he was fined three times for grass on his vacant property that was “too tall and had grown to over ten inches” after he had demolished the house he had purchased and before the new house was constructed. “The terrain was undulating. It was a construction site,” he said. “I was not given any notice and was fined by the borough’s building inspector in the mail.” Mr. Levine stated that he had decided to move to Upper Saddle River for the excellent school system but he was shocked by how the borough’s building inspector had spoken to him, and who had not responded to emails. Also, he said, there was no response from the borough’s zoning officer, where he still had $10,000 in escrow.  “I have lived at the property for the past three years, and I have learned that these people have no sense of community, no sense of doing what’s right. This is unacceptable behavior.” 

Public Comment: Resident commends Fire Department Official
Resident Patrick Rotello said that he would like to see John Carlough, who has served the USRFD for 48 years, recognized for his dedication and service. “He has shown up for 95% of all calls,” said Mr. Rotello. “If you could, please recognize him.”