By Ron Leir
Harrison has a new Department of Public Works superintendent and the town didn’t have to look very far to find him.
Robert Van Riper, 41, a former employee of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark, where Mayor Ray McDonough used to work as a supervisor, was hired April 1 to replace the late Ronald Catrambone after the town got state approval for the new hiring.
April 1 was also Van Riper’s 10-year anniversary as a parttime $25,000-a-year DPW/ buildings and grounds employee for Harrison, handling heating, ventilating and air-conditioning work and in-house construction projects such as the Police Department dispatch center, Harrison Redevelopment Agency offices, and town beautification programs.
During two decades at the PVSC, Van Riper worked on infrastructure and equipment repairs at the commission’s sprawling sewage-treatment facility. “The PVSC has hundreds of miles of pipes, along with wastewater-treatment equipment, that needed to be maintained,” he said.
McDonough was effusive with praise for the new superintendent. “Robert can fix motors, boilers, pumps; he can do welding, plumbing, electric; he can drive any piece of equipment; and he’s had managerial experience [at PVSC],” the mayor said.
He also fixes diesel and gas engines.
“It amazes me how much knowledge he has,” McDonough added.
Now, Harrison will be the beneficiary of Van Riper’s skills, seven days a week.
He’ll be paid $87,500 a year for his normal work as superintendent, plus an additional $25,000 for a minimum of 10 hours a week devoted to municipal buildings and grounds, for a total of $112,500.
Town Attorney Paul Zarbetski said that because the superintendent job is listed as “unclassified,” Van Riper won’t have to take a state Civil Service test for the position. However, Van Riper is attending mandated Rutgers University classes to qualify as a state-certified municipal public works manager, Zarbetski said.
Van Riper, son-in-law of former Harrison Municipal Court Judge John Johnson (currently special counsel to the Harrison Redevelopment Agency), grew up in Paterson but his family moved to Elmwood Park during his high school years.
After spending time in Harrison (he lived on William St.), he moved to Mendham Township with his wife Sharon and four children, ages 9, 11, 14 and 18.
Van Riper said his primary short-term goal, as the head of a department with 21 employees, is to focus on “vehicle maintenance,” in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy which “did quite a bit of damage” to the DPW rolling stock.
“We managed to salvage most of it,” Van Riper said, “but we still have a lot of work to do on the stuff we have.” For the long-term, Van Riper said that with local redevelopment and construction proceeding, along with increased volume of traffic through town – particularly on days when the Red Bulls are home – he sees his challenge as “keeping the roads safe and clean and keeping taxpayers happy with their services.”
Van Riper said the town is also counting on him to schedule senior citizen transportation, maintain roads, fix potholes, clean up any debris, weeds, uncut grass and graffiti from municipal properties, make sure traffic lights are working properly and supervise garbage pickups.
Asked about snow removal – another of his responsibilities – Van Riper said: “I think we’re the best in the state” at the job, which he credits to DPW employees whom he described as “hard-working individuals and I plan on having their trust.”
When he’s not dealing with his Harrison duties, Van Riper is coaching his daughter’s West Morris High School soccer team or spending quality time with his family at home.