THE CROTON AQUEDUCT COMMISSION.
The Croton aqueduct commission, despite Mayor Low’s strong approval of its services to the people of New York city, seems to be falling upon evil days just at present. Amongst other things the commissioners are now being called to account for building for an assistant engineer (at the expense of the taxpayers), whose income is considerably below $3,000 a year, a palatial and elaborately finished mail; sion, in every sense of the word unsuited either to the locality or the proposed tenant. Another cause of fault-finding is the negligence of the commission in the matter of the railroad changes in the. Croton lake basin, and the consequent imposition of a needless expense of $100,000, or more, upon the city. Additional loss, it appears, has also resulted from the commissioners neglecting to acquire title to certain lands, with valuable buildings and improvements— the large dairy farms of the Nelson Brothers near Katonah—which were acquired for the city in 1897, and for which nearly $100,000 was to he paid at once, but up to the present year was not paid. Under the law New York city has had to pay six per cent, interest on the above mentioned $100,000 from the date of taking title, which will bring the cost up to nearly $40,000 more—an expense which might easily have been avoided had the city borrowed the money at three per cent, and so have saved about $20,000. Nor did the neglect on the part of the commissioners end there. If the city had paid the money and entered into possession of the property, it would also have had the usufruct of the land, and either rented it out, or itself worked it as a dairy farm. This the Nelsons have done, and profitably, all these years, without paying a dollar of rental to the city—their only expenses outside of operating the farm being for taxes and repairs of fences. According to the corporation counsel, this, though the most flagrant, is only one of many similar cases, and how the aqueduct commissioners should have been guilty of such neglect is what passes understanding. One of their chief functions has been to acquire title to land in the Croton watershed for storage purposes and to remove all possibilities of contamination from the watershed. They have the name of being excellent and conscientious citizens. They may be all that; hut, to put it mildly, as business men, they have proved themselves failures.
Meanwhile the Merchants’ Association of New York has got after the commissioners, and is holding a “John Doe” inquiry before Justice Mayor of the court of Special Sessions, with the district attorney as prosecutor. The charges brought against Commissioners W. H. Ten Eyck. Joseph T. Windolph, and John T. Ryan include contumacious neglect of duty. Several witnesses have been examined, including inspectors of the Jerome Park reservoir work; Divisional Engineer Edward Wegmann, who had at one time charge of some work on the Jerome Park reservoir, but was transferred to the Croton valley, after he had had trouble over material used by a contractor in constructing a retaining wall; T homas J. Fleming, superintendent of dam construction on the Jerome Park reservoir; and Edward P. North, former president of the American Society of Engineers and consulting engineer of the Merchants’ association. The testimony given, it is claimed, has been altogether in corroboration of the charges preferred by the Merchants’ association, that not only the construction of the walls, but the work of excavation, also, had progressed much more slowly than would have been the case under proper management and supervision, and that much of the work had not been up to the standard required by the specifications. Witnesses also testified to overcertification of material delivered on the ground for use and payments for excavation never made. District Attorney Jerome says that the one piece of testimoney brought out was that the wall erected was found so leaky that tarred rope had to be used for the purpose of filling up crevices to prevent water from running into the reservoir from the outside. Mr. Jerome was also told that during the winter huge icicles formed in many places where the water trickled through the leaky walls, and that this was considered a great joke by the inspectors employed upon the work.
Among those summoned to appear as a witness was William R. Hill, chief engineer of the Croton aqueduct commission, who. from being chief engineer and superintendent of the waterworks of Syracuse. N. Y„ succeeded the late Alfonse Fteley. on the resignation of the latter from that position in 1899. Mr. Hill’s health is so had that he has resigned his position, and is now at Atlantic City. X. J. He is not at present able to endure the strain and excitement of appearing on the witness stand.
Alexander Fleming, superintendent at Melrose Park. Ill., says that the change from deep well pumps to air-lifts is a great improvement.