Paterson National Park Bid On Hold

The Record
By:  Alison Vekshin, States News Service
March 14, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Congressional efforts to designate Paterson's Great Falls Historic District a national park were brought to a halt Tuesday when a Department of the Interior representative announced a temporary moratorium on new park designations.

The announcement came during a House committee hearing on a bill introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, to authorize the secretary of the interior to study adding the falls to the National Park System. Congressional approval of the study would be the first step toward securing the designation.

"Not only is the Great Falls Historic District historically significant, but the city of Paterson stands ready to work in conjunction with the National Park Service to develop its potential," Pascrell told the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands.

But Joseph E. Doddridge, acting assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks in the Department of the Interior, recommended the committee defer action on the bill until the National Park Service reduces the $4 billion backlog of studies and projects already in progress. President Bush has asked the department to reduce the backlog within five years.

Doddridge said the department was imposing a temporary moratorium on new park unit designations or new studies "so that we can focus our existing staff and resources on taking care of what we now own."

Pascrell denounced the policy.

"To be told in the very beginning that we shouldn't be here in the first place to me is a bit disingenuous," Pascrell said.

Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., the subcommittee chairman, agreed.

"The idea that we will not ask you to do more studies is a little far-fetched," Hefley told Doddridge.

Doddridge said he would pass along the comments to his department.

The 119-acre district includes the 77-foot Great Falls, the Paterson Museum, and old manufacturing mills. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970 and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976.

Anna-Lisa Dopirak, community development director for Paterson, testified to the historic significance of the falls. She said Paterson, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1792, was one of the nation's first planned industrialized cities.

Pascrell, a former Paterson mayor, introduced his bill Jan. 3. Sens. Robert G. Torricelli and Jon S. Corzine, New Jersey Democrats, introduced a Senate version of the bill Feb. 15.