Acclaimed TV producer creating documentary on cleanup of Whippany River
HANOVER – Glenn Silber, an Oscar-nominated producer-director, has worked with the likes of Scott Pelley, Steve Kroft and Meredith Vieira. He has won national awards for a PBS documentary on the savings and loan bailout and for a CBS piece on children of the homeless.
But for his latest project, Silber is pursuing a more local angle: the cleanup of Morris County’s Whippany River.
“I consider myself an environmentalist,”; Silber said. “It’s an opportunity to raise awareness about saving water and tell a positive story about community involvement.”;
The Whippany River Watershed Action Committee and Hanover Township, in an effort to call attention to the river revival and encourage young people to join the battle, hired Silber to create a documentary. Bayer HealthCare, in Hanover, awarded a $45,000 grant for the project through its foundation.
“Thirty years ago, people treated the river like a sewer,”; Silber said. “Hanover Township recognized the problem and they took concerted action to fix it. People rose to the occasion.”;
“It’s just the story of one little river,”; said Silber, “but you can imagine there are many other stories of other rivers.”;
Art Vespignani, facilitator for the WRWAC, said the group chose Silber for the project because “he was the best person to do what we were trying to do.”;
The WRWAC gets involved in hands-on efforts and acquires grants to keep the river clean and includes representatives of the towns along the river. The Whippany meanders for 16 miles, beginning at the Clyde Potts Reservoir in Mendham Township and passing through Sunrise Lake and Speedwell Lake before ending at the Rockaway River in Parsippany shortly before it hits the Passaic.
Silber, of Verona, expects to create an approximate 15-minute film that will be shown in schools and made available worldwide on YouTube.
Silber is looking for longtime residents with stories to tell about the river, and is especially anxious to find footage of the river when it was dirty.
Meanwhile, he’s moving ahead with his educational mission.
Silber and his camera crew this month brought 27 eighth graders, all enrolled in the gifted and talented program at Memorial Junior School, Hanover’s middle school, to the Hanover Municipal Building for an environmental lesson that was recorded for the as-yet unnamed documentary.
George Van Orden, who’s been the township’s health officer for more than 30 years and also teaches environmental science at Rutgers University, has seen the ups and downs of the Whippany River and shared his knowledge with the youths.
After the worst things the kids could say about the river was that it’s muddy, as well as a dangerous place to ride a raft after a storm, Van Orden said, “You should have seen it back in the 1980s. I used to get complaints all the time about how the river smelled.”;
The water was dirty, and dead fish surfaced sometimes.
The main culprits, he said, had been the Whippany Paper Board company, which regularly discharged paper sludge into the river before it closed in 1980, along with five sewage treatments plants along the river, particularly Morristown’s, which discharged raw sewage into the river. These practices had started before clean water laws were passed.
But after Hanover sued Morristown, the town cleaned up its act and has been doing an “excellent job”; with its sewage since then, Van Orden said.
A key event in the turnaround came in 1992, Van Orden said, when he saw bass return to the river.
In the 1990s, Van Orden said, the state Department of Environmental Protection developed watershed management techniques and then the WRWAC got involved in volunteer efforts. “The main focus now is containing storm water,”; he said.
Van Orden told the students, “You can be the stewards of the river, you can make it clean. All you have to do is a little and we can make things better.”;
The students, who had all taken an environmental science class, knew much of the technical terminology and accepted the importance of keeping the river and other water resources clean.
They vowed not to dump garbage in the river, something they said they have seen other people do. All said they would volunteer for efforts to keep the water clean, but only a handful showed interest in careers preserving water.
“We need to protect water because we need water to live,”; said Amanda Ruiz. “Eventually it will run out.”;
Noting that parts of the Whippany provide a water supply, Tim Gallo pointed out, “We don’t want to be drinking raw sewage. We need to keep it clean so we don’t have to clean it again.”;
Nikhil Avadhani added, “A lot of people think it’s important to protect the water, but they feel like someone else will do it.”;
People with stories or photos for the project are urged to contact Robin Dente, Hanover’s assistant business administrator, at (973) 428-2482 or at Rdente@hanovertownship.com