I-Team: Federal Money Spent on Paterson Great Falls, No Visible Results

By Tom Llamas
|  Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014  |  Updated 12:21 PM EDT
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Some people are wondering whether money earmarked for upgrading Paterson's Great Falls is being properly spent. Tom Llamas reports.

Some people are wondering whether money earmarked for upgrading Paterson's Great Falls is being properly spent. Tom Llamas reports.

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Paterson Great Falls is known for its majestic views, but some visitors are troubled by what else they see there -- vandalism and boarded-up windows on the park grounds.
 
That was all supposed to change after the falls was taken over by the National Park Service in 2011, with the goal of revitalizing a space that's been called a national treasure.

 
Since then the federal government has allocated more than $1.4 million in taxpayer money for the project, and some are asking where it's being spent. 
 
“I’m not seeing the results or anything, I’m wondering where the money is going,” said Paterson resident Ohidur Choudhury.
 
The I-Team set out to track it.
 
Nearly half a million has gone to pay salary and benefits to the park’s superintendent, Darren Boch, since 2012.
 
Boch also hired three part-time employees in 2013, even though the park revitalization is still in a planning phase. He said there is administrative work to be done.
 
“Right now the dollars we’ve expended over the initial phase of the park is largely to personnel services and administrative costs,” says Boch.
 
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, singled out the falls in his 2013 report on wasteful government spending.
 
“Now you have a national park where you have money for salaries but that’s it," said Coburn. "You don’t have a park."
 
One issue holding up the project is the fact that a separate entity, the Paterson Municipal Utility Authority, technically still owns the park land.  
 
Erik Lowe runs the MUA and his agency still pays $30,000 to $50,000 a year to maintain the park. He's ready for the National Park Service to take over that job.
 
“If you’re operating it as a national park, it should be a national park then you should relieve the burden from the MUA and start doing some of the maintenance and housekeeping,” said Lowe.
 
The National Park Service is starting to acquire land from the MUA but the first parcel won't be under the agency until next year.
 
“Once we acquire those properties then it’ll be incumbent upon the National Park Service to ensure that those properties are kept in good repair and kept clean,” said Boch. 
 
He insists taxpayers are getting value with park events, and with the hiring of a full-time park ranger who led free tours for 3,300 visitors last year.
 
There is currently no firm timetable on fully transferring the park land and responsibilities to the federal government. The National Park Service says it's satisfied with the start-up of Paterson Great Falls and that Boch is an exceptional superintendent. 
 
U.S. Rep Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, helped get the votes to make the falls a national park in the first place.
 
“This is our Yellowstone, this is our Grand Canyon here, because we know what it represents,” he said.
 
Pascrell still believes lawmakers did the right thing in putting the falls in federal hands.
 
“The city didn’t have the money, the Utilities and Authority didn’t have the money to do what we think we want to do with the falls, to preserve it and make it a destination," he said. 

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