Saddle River council chairman resigns over $1.45m bridge price tag

SADDLE RIVER — The cost and design of a proposed pedestrian bridge to connect the two halves of Rindlaub Park separated by the Saddle River led to the resignation of Borough Council President Rosario Ruffino.

Rosario resigned after the July 18 board meeting and talks about the cost and burgeoning design of the $1.45 million project. Planning Council Chairman Jeffrey Liva was named to the vacant seat on Monday.

An order authorizing an additional $750,000 for the project, originally budgeted at $700,000, also passed on Monday. The council awarded the construction contract to Empire Construction.

“I am extremely fiscally conservative on most issues,” Ruffino said in his resignation letter. “I’m not sure the mayor and council understand that fiscal responsibility should be paramount in the immediate future.”

Ruffino’s letter also charged “complete due diligence was not performed.”

“We have not hired an engineer to survey the property to determine what, if anything, we can build,” Ruffino said. “In my opinion, a technical survey of the land is the next logical step before proceeding, but the council thought otherwise.”

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A footbridge connecting the two parts of Rindlaub Park in the borough has been “part of our master plan for almost 20 years”, said Mayor Albert Kurpis.

The 15.8-acre Rindlaub Park straddles the Saddle River just south of East Allendale Avenue between West and East Saddle River Roads. About half of the borough-owned property is on either side of the river.

The section east of the Saddle River can be reached by a service road from East Saddle River Road south of Borough Hall, and it includes running and cycling tracks, two baseball fields, two tennis courts, a bandshell stage, restrooms/snack stand, parking and a playground.

The western part of the River Saddle can only be reached via the neighboring Waterford Gardens property and includes Tricker Pond, favored by the area’s resident swans. The plan calls for connecting the active eastern half to the passive western half with the bridge and improving the western side with walking paths.

“The lake is completely inaccessible to residents,” Kurpis said. “The only way to make this land and this lake accessible is to build a pedestrian bridge. The pedestrian bridge will double the size of Rindlaub Park. It will provide protection in the event of sudden bad weather.”

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Kurpis is a major proponent of anything that improves the ‘country lane’ aspect of the borough. It features a wooden covered bridge echoing those of rural New England. It would become “another iconic structure representing Saddle River’s unique historic charm”, albeit largely hidden from the street.

Funding for this design is a complex issue.

Aerial view of Rindlaub Park from Saddle River showing the dark Saddle River dividing the plot in two.  A bridge at an as-yet-undisclosed location along the river would connect the active eastern half of the park to the western passive portion, including Tricker's Pond in the northwest corner.

The order that approved doubling the cost of the bridge says the borough had already earmarked $700,000 for the project, $35,000 from its capital improvement fund, and $665,000 in “authorized bonds and notes.” An additional amount of $750,000 was approved Monday from the borough’s “covered pedestrian bridge reserve”.

Kurpis said the municipality had accumulated $300,000 in matching grants for the project and the Francis Walsh family had offered to donate $750,000 towards the cost of the bridge. The balance to be paid by the borough would be $100,000. Grants can only be used for the bridge, Kurpis said.

“Building this bridge will not be a financial burden on the city,” he said. “But prices have gone up. Supply chain issues have made everything more expensive.”

Eleanor C. William