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Lawyer invites flooded residents to open meeting on making United Water more ‘neighbor-friendly’

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: A lawyer who has fought United Water for years is inviting residents and business owners from Hillsdale, Westwood, River Vale and other towns to a public meeting to discuss his strategy to force the utility “to adopt more neighbor-friendly water release policies.”

Kevin T. Mulhearn said he will also discuss “various legal options for [flood victims] to seek a fair recovery” for damages during the 7 p.m. meeting Thursday at the West Nyack Fire Department, 42 Strawtown Road.

“If you are interested in pursuing a legal remedy, or just want to learn more about these issues, your attendance is welcome,” Mulhearn said.

The Brooklyn-born Mulhearn, a former Park Avenue lawyer, is the alternative for some area residents and business owners who didn’t want to be part of an organized group that has hired its own lawyer.

“I feel we all deserve the same information at the same time,” resident Eve Protin wrote on Facebook. “Just because they have money to buy a lawyer doesn’t make them any better [than] the rest of us.”

Mulhearn already represents dozens of people in a pending suit against United Water that seeks $50 million in damages caused by an April 2007 storm, alleging negligent and/or reckless maintenance of the utility’s reservoir system.

Protin and a few neighbors insist they won’t be dictated to by the Hillsdale-Westwood Flood Solution Group (FSG), which has held several meetings and retained attorney Don MacLachlan of Ridgewood to represent them in talks with both towns.

MacLachlan accused the engineer commissioned by Westwood to study United Water’s operations of having a conflict of interest. Engineer Stephen Boswell’s firm is working on a utility-funded project: the design of a new county intersection at Broadway and Woodcliff Avenue.

MacLachlan presented the governing body with a list of nearly two dozen demands. FSG even offered to match the contributions that several Pascack Valley towns have made toward the engineering study, just to prove how serious the group is taking its fight.

FSG sprung from a Facebook page called Flood No More, which was aimed at sharing information, bonding — and, for the most part, venting. Data was posted during each of the floods that came with several huge rainfalls this year. Members also shared photos of properties and neighborhoods flooded by water several feet deep, as well as shots of the Woodcliff Lake dam’s control gates at various stages.

There were the usual conflicts, differences of opinion, etc. But the members generally helped one another out. They protested together outside United Water’s headquarters.

Then a rift opened ( SEE: Flooded Westwood, Hillsdale residents battling on new front ).

After essentially airing their ideas and potential strategies in public, a collective of more than a dozen residents began seriously organizing.

“There was no way we were going to put all that out there and lose any advantage we might gain,” resident Tom Kelley told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “We’ve dealt with this for far too long and we’ve gotten nowhere. We’re doing things differently this time.”

It made enough sense that several dozen other area homeowners immediately signed up.

What the organizers hadn’t counted on was the backlash from a few homeowners who don’t agree with the approach.

One of the dissenters, Nancy Sico-Culhane, complained on the original Flood No More page that it was disingenuous for a select few to create their own committee, hire counsel and then suggest that others join in after the fact. She insisted that FSG was applying too much pressure to local officials instead of working positively toward a long-term solution.

Having been banished from Flood No More after a series of angry posts, she created a new Facebook group, Pascack Valley Against Flooding.

Karolina Marin, one of Flood No More’s original members and a chief FSG organizer, said Sico-Culhane was trying to steer the members toward Mulhearn.

“This is not about just litigating against someone. [It’s] about changing the law,” Marin countered. “And for that, you need a solid strategy, a group of skilled people, be humble enough to recognize what we don’t know, and wise enough to use eve[r]ything in hand to work in our benefit… and to not become a roadblock ….”

Sico-Culhane replied that MacLachlan was “being pushed down everyone[‘s] throat” and that the results of the choice – in terms of how much his services will actually cost — will emerge over time. By then, she said, it will be too late to do anything about it.

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