Flood  Restoring the Floodplain

Interview with Chris Statile - Hillsdale's Borough Engineer, Hillsdale Flood Plain

SWAN:  This is Sam from Bergen SWAN. I'm sitting down with Chris Statile. Chris is Hillsdale's Borough Engineer and was on of the tour guides for the Hillsdale Flood Plain part of Bergen SWAN's eco-tour in 2009.  Chris has helped the town acquire County and State grants to facilitate the purchase of open space and floodwater mitigation land.  In 1995 he helped the Borough to obtain ten Pascack Brook floodplain lots for use as open space and passive parks, keeping these lots safe from development. In 1999 Chris facilitated the closure of an old municipal landfill and had it converted to a ten-acre sports recreation center. He advises the municipal planning boards for Hillsdale and River Vale and also advises the Hillsdale Environmental Commission. Chris runs his own business in Oakland.

1.       What is the history behind your preserving of open space around the Pascack Brook floodplain?

-Well, the borough of Hillsdale had put together an open space committee, and we looked at the possible criteria for the selection of purchasing or requiring parcels of space in the boroughs of Hillsdale. One of the target areas the committee looked at were environmentally challenged areas, such as the floodplains along the various brooks and streams in Hillsdale.  One of which is the Pascack Brook floodplain.

2.       How important would you say keeping the flood plain free from development is in terms of keeping land in good shape during periods of heavy rain?

-          Well it's one of our more important assets in the community as well as many communities in the state. When we have homes in the flood plain, people are at risk: during infrequent but heavy rainfall activity, those areas become full of floodwaters and our emergency staff has to evacuate people.  The flood plain also provides for a place for Mother Nature to store water, protects downstream properties, and deposits silts and sediments from those streams into the land and forests which can be collected and utilized by the vegetation in those undisturbed areas.

3.       How is the community protected from possible flooding by the flood plain?

-          We don't really gain protection from flooding, other than the flood plain being used as a water storage device.  We do have heavy floodplains. It probably protects the downstream properties as does floodplains above Hillsdale, protect Hillsdale the same way. That's one of the benefits of having these open spaces.

4.       What recreational activities can members of the community enjoy in this area?

-          One of the things we've done is we've incorporated some walking paths through some areas along the Pascack Brook for people to enjoy the forested areas as well as have access to the waterfront. People do like to fish in the Pascack Brook. In other areas we've created parks and playgrounds, which is a bit more active than just walking through the woods.

5.       What can you tell us about the Open Space Planning Initiative?

-          The mayor and council had established an open space committee years ago, and we came up with a roster of potential properties to acquire, many of which were along the Pascack Brook, and we were able to negotiate with those owners to sell those properties to the borough. That is an ongoing process, and has been an ongoing process. Unfortunately this year the Open Space Assessment was voted down by the voters in Hillsdale, so currently the town is not putting forth any additional money into the Open Space program. This is as far as 2010 goes.

6.       How can members of the community encourage their governments to actively strive for open space preservation?

-          One of the ways of course would be for them to vote favorably for open space funding, either through local assessments or through county assessments, because this does benefit everybody in the community, not just the people who live in the floodplains but also people who can enjoy those areas which are still remaining open for people to utilize.

7.       One of the conflicts that comes up when preserving open space is that the space preserved, there is no longer taxes collected on that space, and there can be cost involved in the upkeep of the upkeep of those new areas. So what would you say to someone who says that it's more important to keep taxes down than it is to preserve these open spaces?

-          It depends on the type of development that may be pushing its way into these open space areas. Single-family residential development does not bring in necessarily more taxes than it extracts from the community, because of the needs for service in the schools, and the public works department, etcetera, in the community itself. So open space, in a way, in terms of single-family residential development does tend to save money to the community.  I can't say that about commercial development, of course commercial development would have a positive effect on tax collection in the communities. The need to maintain the open space by the public works department isn't that great: it's an occasional once or twice a year clearing of any debris etcetera that might be there, or litter, or illicit dumping. People do tend to dump their leaves and vegetative waste into the open space in Hillsdale, and occasionally it has to be cleaned up by the Department of Public Works. But it's not an overwhelming problem.

8.       What kinds of projects are you working on with the Hillsdale Environmental Commission?

-          Right now, with the Hillsdale Environmental Commission, we're trying to provide more access to the open space areas of the community. We are improving a walkway in Beachwood Park, which has been a nature park for many years. We'd like to enhance it so that it's more open to the public. We're also looking at other types of trail systems between the Hillsdale landfill, and some properties that were acquired off of St. Nicholas Avenue and tie those in with the high school so that there's a larger walking path area in those open space areas. So really, the connection is more about having access to the open space, as well as enhancing the open space.

9.       One of your goals is to interconnect all of these different open spaces and the parks?

-Yes, I'd like to have a large interconnected system of trails for people  in Hillsdale to utilize, and they could be potentially hooked up with Woodvale Park to the north, which is a county park. They could potentially be hooked up to the east with the bike path, and with the county trail system as well, to the south and then to the west with the landfill, which would make a very long pleasurable trail system in this portion of Bergen County.

SWAN: Great. Well that's it. Thanks Chris, and keep up the good work.

Chris: Thank you.

Links to resources: