Effort to designate Great Falls a national park falls short

Two vote short

A wilderness preservation bill that included a national park designation for Paterson’s Great Falls got broad support in the House Wednesday but came up two votes short of passing.

The larger bill, which also would add a building to the historic park in West Orange where Thomas Edison made many of his discoveries, passed the Senate in January and would have gone to President Obama’s desk if approved.

Despite a vote of 282-144, however, it was defeated because the amendment-blocking procedure used to bring it to the floor required 284 “yes” votes.

“We have to bring it back through the regular order,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, said after the vote. “The Republican leadership wanted a ‘no’ on this to bust our chops and get it into the regular order. So let them have their games.”

The entire New Jersey delegation supported the bill, except Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage. A spokeswoman did not immediately have an explanation why.

Critics during a 40-minute debate before the vote complained about the decision by House and Senate leaders to compile numerous bills together and then put the final product before the House with no opportunity for changes.

Opponents noted the National Park Service has an estimated $9 billion maintenance backlog for existing facilities, and adding to the system would invariably make things worse.

Criticism also focused on excluding oil and gas drilling from more of the West; new criminal penalties for removing fossils from public land; and barring motorcyclists from wilderness terrain.

“The motorcyclists were against it because they can’t go through the 163 parks that were involved in it,” Pascrell said. “You take a vote here, you take a vote there. I know guys that would have voted for it except the motorcyclists must’ve bopped a few over the head.”

Only one lawmaker during the debate criticized the provision to preserve the 77-foot Passaic River falls in Paterson that Alexander Hamilton first advocated tapping for energy in 1778.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, mocked the falls preservation, saying the bill would preserve a brewery, a butterfly garden and condominiums. Pascrell said that was simply not true, and documents provided by Bishop’s office to support the claim quoted an article in a Capitol Hill newspaper article apparently based on ideas proposed but never executed earlier in the decade when the state designated the site as a state park.

“This is the beginning of the industrial revolution in the United States,” Pascrell said, noting that in addition to the textile mills that gave the Silk City its nickname, Paterson was also home Samuel Colt’s first firearms factory and “the largest production of locomotives in the entire country.”

The setback will mean that the bill could be amended, which would also require that it be brought back before the Senate for final approval.

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