The Oradell Water Treatment Plant sits on Van Buskirk Island, a man made island created when the Hackensack River was dammed in the 1800’s. The area was of great commercial and industrial activity as the Hackensack River was used by boats to ferry men, materials and good into NYC, dating as far back as the 1600’s. There were several mills that operated here over the years until 1881 when the land was turned over to the Hackensack Water Company, which operated a water filtration plant, operating on steam driven equipment. It was here in the 1920’s that activated carbon filtration was developed by George Spalding, which became the national and international standard for water filtration.
In 1990, United Water (formerly Hackensack Water Company) stopped using the facility and turned it over to Bergen County for use as… well no one is exactly sure what. The County has had the property for 12 years and during the first 6 years they simply debated what to do with the property. It turned the property over to Oradell to do with it what it wanted, but they eventually turned it back over to the County. By 1996 the site was designated as one of the 10 most threatened historic sites in the nation. By July 2001 nothing had been done and County Executive Pat Schuber announced plans to build a “ruins amphitheater” and demolish the buildings. The conservancy group was outraged and soon they began working on their own plan: preserve the site and create a center for culture, science & history. They claim they can pay for their plan with donations, whereas the County plan would cost taxpayers nearly 10 million dollars. On the surface it sounds better, but can they raise the money?
The appointment of a new County Executive has not done much to resolve the issue.