Mayor’s Council on flooding making slow, but determined progress

CRANFORD — Things are moving along in the effort to alleviate flooding along the Rahway River.
Last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to complete the next stage of the evaluation needed to find alternative flood mitigation measures for towns that live along this waterway.

Although Cranford Mayor Tom Hannen is just one of 11 members on the Mayors Council On Rahway River Flood Control, recently he had an opportunity to get front and center with federal representatives who have the power to help ease flooding woes along the Rahway river.

Hannen met with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City to discuss seven project options the corps proposed, and while nothing is set in stone, it is the first positive sign in years that help may indeed be on the way.

The mayors have been working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for a while to come up with the best options to protect the towns that experienced $100 million in damages as a result of Tropical Storm Irene alone.

So far the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the hydrological benefits of the seven alternatives and are now trying to estimate how much it will cost to implement each one. This is a critical juncture, according to former Cranford Mayor Dan Aschenbach, who coordinated the mayors council.

For instance, federal law requires each alternative be reviewed and the project with the strongest cost-benefit ratio be selected for further review. Benefits, though, must outweigh cost or the project cannot move forward.

The alternatives on the table include raising Lenape Park dam and levees in Cranford with channels or an alternative of less channels; excavation of Orange reservoir and gate opening, which already was rejected as an option; modification of the Orange reservoir and channels; South Mountain Regional dry detention basin and channels; or South Mountain Regional dry detention basin without channels.
Also considered were non-structural alternatives and water storage solutions for Robinson’s branch of the Rahway river.

The study, which began in 2002, hit a wall until after Tropical Storm Irene hit. It was only after this devastating storm that the mayor’s council and local legislators began advocating for the army corps to make Rahway river flood mitigation a top priority.

The army corps said they will come to a decision on an alternative plan sometime this year. All eleven mayors, including Hannen, Millburn Mayor Sandra Haimoff; Springfield Mayor David Amlen; Rahway Mayor Rick Proctor; Union Mayor Clifton People; Winfield Mayor Margaret McManus; Kenilworth Mayor Kathi Fiamingo; and Garwood Mayor Patricia Quattrocchi all have been advocating for the state to fund this environmental evaluation so the selected alternative will be based on the best information available.

Hannen and Haimoff have met personally with Gov. Chris Christie and his staff to urge the funding of the evaluation in the 2014 budget.