A state board decided Wednesday that it does not have the authority to make a decision requested by United Water on the utility's proposed dam upgrade project for the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir.
United Water filed a petition with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) last year asking the board to find that their plan for the dam — which would approximately double the rate at which water can flow into the Pascack Brook — is "reasonably necessary;" and that local land use ordinances have no authority over the plan.
Hillsdale officials have argued that the plan should be heard by the borough Planning Board because it could affect flooding in the brook.
The BPU dismissed the petition without prejudice this week, declining to rule that they have jurisdiction over the matter.
That does not mean the project has been stopped.
The project involves lowering a portion of the dam to allow water to flow over the top more easily. The Department of Environmental protection is requiring the faster flow to prevent the dam from breaking in a severe storm and previously approved a plan from United Water to meet the new requirement.
Donald MacLachlan, an attorney representing the Hillsdale & Westwood Flood Solution Group, which was an intervenor in the matter, said he disagreed with some of the statements made by the BPU in their decision, but was happy with the end result.
"We find it to be very favorable," MacLachlan said.
Rich Henning, senior vice president of communications at United Water, said the decision "doesn't really change anything."
United Water has argued that the project should be allowed to proceed because the DEP already approved its dam plans. Local ordinances like those in Hillsdale should not affect a plan approved by the DEP, according to Henning.
"It's not the job of any local community," Henning said.
Hillsdale Mayor Max Arnowitz disagreed, saying he hoped the decision would help bring the plan before the Planning Board for review.
"I hope this means that they will come before the Planning Board and allow Hillsdale to have experts review the plan and ensure nothing will affect our residents' safety," Arnowitz said.
MacLachlan said the Flood Solution Group also hopes to "make sure the environmental impact of the United Water project is objectively evaluated because nobody — not the residents, not Hillsdale's government and not the DEP — wishes to permit the construction of a $25 million project which could contribute to flooding."
MacLachlan said he was reaching out to the DEP and the Hillsdale government in hopes of helping to arrange such a review.