Jersey City council OKs plan to open up Boonton reservoir to public

JERSEY CITY — A 40-year lease between Jersey City and the Morris County Park Commission that will allow for the creation of a walking trail around the city’s reservoir in Boonton was approved by the City Council on Wednesday.

Proponents of the plan, like Mayor Steve Fulop and his council allies, have argued that opening up the 1,300-acre reservoir to the public would lead to increased security of the reservoir property. Opening up the land to the public would allow for patrols by police officers in Morris County, who are not permitted on the property now, they say.

The $1 lease requires the creation of a property management plan, one that local environmental advocates wanted so they and others would have input on the creation of the 7.5-mile trail. If the plan is not created within two years, the lease is terminated.

Fishing, boating and swimming in the reservoir would remain prohibited.

The council voted 7-2 to approve the lease, with council members Michael Yun and James Solomon voting no.

Councilman Rich Boggiano has been a vocal critic of the city’s reservoir plans, but a trip to Boonton last week led to a reversal, he said Wednesday. Council members who went on that trip to Morris County described seeing holes cut in the gates that are supposed to keep the public off the property, debris and evidence of public gatherings like extinguished campsites.

“It’s a mess,” Boggiano said.

Yun, explaining his opposition to the lease, said he doesn’t believe the city’s claims that it will increase security. Opening up the reservoir to the public will create a public safety issue and harm the city’s water, he said.

There will be a “higher risk to get decreased water quality,” he said. “Why do we have to take that kind of risk? … let’s keep it in our hands.”

Supporters of  the plan note that the water is filtered after it comes from the reservoir.

On Twitter on Wednesday, Fulop called the council vote a “great outcome.”

“This will provide more security to our #JerseyCity water source w/no expense to tax payers, it will provide educational opportunities to jc kids + great hiking trails for NJ,” he said.

The plan is a major initiative for Fulop, who is signing the ordinance adopted on Wednesday at a ceremony in Boonton on Friday. The only other time Fulop has turned the signing of an ordinance into a public event was in October 2013 when he signed the city’s paid sick leave legislation.

The council also advanced two measures to borrow a total of $184,500,000. The first measure, for $170,000,000, is to fund the purchase of the Hackensack River waterfront property known as Bayfront and to pay for creating infrastructure in that area. The city’s plan for the formerly contaminated parcel is to create a massive residential area there by selling it off piece by piece to real-estate developers and using the proceeds to pay off the bonds. The measure passed 8- 1, with Yun voting no.

The second measure, for $14,500,000, is to pay for costs like terminal leave associated with retirements, largely police officers. The measure passed 7-2, with Yun and Solomon voting no. Solomon said the request to borrow the money shows the city is not being responsible in its budgeting. One of Solomon’s predecessors, Steve Fulop, once called it “bad public policy” to borrow for retirement costs.

Terrence T. McDonald may be reached at tmcdonald@jjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @terrencemcd. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.

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