Probing the Waterworks Department of New York.
In the course of the investigation into the departments of the city of New York by the legislative finance committee the department of water supply, gas and electricity has come under the purview of that body. Among other matters it took up the subject of the condemnation of the land required for the Catskill aqueduct. It appeared from the evidence that a syndicate had bought up 3,500 acres—5 sq. m.—of Catskill farms, woods and streams, for which, through the ninety condemnation commissioners, who were paid at the rate of $50 a day, and then had sold the same land at a very large profit, which, added to the multitde of dollars paid to special counsel, and experts, as well as for advertising in certain newspapers, brought up the sum thus taken from the public purse to a very considerable sum. The fees paid to expert engineers for expert advice on the “many different problems that confront them,” it was declared, were “absolutely essential.” Among these problems is that of the conduit under or across the Hudson river. To get the aqueduct across there are “three distinct and possible methods,” and the desire of the department of water supply is to “find out which will be most advantageous—having a tunnel through rock bottom— if rock bottom can be found; building a reinforced concrete tunnel, or carrying a pipeline over a bridge.” Incidentally, also, in order to set the commission right on the Suffolk water plan the members were told by Commissioner Charles A. Shaw, of the city’s board of water supply, openly and clearly, that, when Commissioner O’Brien had testified under oath that the $7,000,000 necessary for that supply was included in the $162,000,000, he “misunderstood the purpose of the appropriation.” Mr. Shaw also promised an itemisation of the expenditures that came under the head of “miscellaneous,” and explained that the item, “rental,” covered what had been paid for the rental of automobiles for the paymasters and engineers on the Catskill work, who “have to go over a vast territory in a short time.” Another item showed that five automobiles had been bought for the use of the board. He also made the Panama canal comparison in giving the reasons for paying $86,410.08 to three consulting engineers in the preliminary work. “The regular force (he said) received for preliminary surveys, field and office work $1,373,630.66.” He considered that the “Catskill aqueduct work” presents engineering problems greater and more complete than those of the Panama canal.”