This afternoon I had the pleasure to speak at length with Rockaway Township Mayor Louis Sceusi regarding the closure of the parking lot at Splitrock Reservoir. My first question was why he ordered the closure.
“I suggest you go onto YouTube and you see all the kids that are diving off the cliffs. It has become a hazard in terms of young people using it for swimming, drinking, and partying. The litter in the back, and I’ve seen it myself, I’ve been there the last three weekends, is absolutely out of control.”
The mayor wanted to be clear that the people following the rules at Splitrock are not the problem. The reservoir and surrounds are open to fishing from boats (no gas motors), kayaking, canoeing and hiking, but swimming and camping are prohibited.
“We’re not opposed to any fisherman. Unfortunately it’s a temporary closure to get the state to respond. They have absolutely not responded. I sent them a letter ten days ago saying that it is out of control, please come up there and do something about it. These kids are obviously not fishermen, they are in bathing suits as they get there and they are asking ‘Where is the swimming hole and where do we dive from?’”
Because the reservoir is owned by Jersey City, the mayor says Rockaway Township needs an affidavit from the owner stating that someone is trespassing before they can act on the swimmers. He has asked for a blanket permission of this type from Jersey City for five years, but “They have ignored me” he says. Without this permission, the complicated jurisdictional arrangement at the reservoir makes enforcement of the rules difficult. Rockaway Township is responsible for the road, Jersey City for the parking area and water, and DEP for fish and game regulation.
However, the private security used by Jersey City is not able to effectively police the area. I once caught a person in the act of stealing one of my deep-cycle batteries in the parking lot. The response from the security officer was “What do you want me to do about it?” The mayor is similarly disappointed with Jersey City’s security, even having found a security officer asleep on the job.
According to the mayor, the Rockaway Township Police Chief has offered an “open-door” policy to both the park rangers and Jersey City’s security police in order to facilitate the processing of complaints, but if no charges are being filed there is nothing they can do. He continues “My suggestion has been, and will be to Jersey City: Hire off-duty Rockaway Township police officers, many of whom live here and know the area and would be happy to do it. And I’ll even lend them the township’s off-road vehicles [four wheel drives and quads] as long as they pay for the off-duty cops. Our guys will know what to do.”
Mr. Sceusi sees the parking lot closure as a last resort effort to draw both Jersey City and Trenton’s attention to the problems at Splitrock Reservoir.
“I sent a letter, I called down there, they don’t answer me at all. Now this did get a response. Both Jersey City and the commissioner of the DEP called us this morning and want to set up a meeting, which is wonderful.”
“I like it myself, it is beautiful up there.” Mr. Sceusi says. ”I’m hoping to actually make it better.”
The mayor urges citizens upset about the closure to contact the office of the commissioner of the DEP to state their views. Ways to do so are available at the Contact Information page.