Rahway River flood project still facing hurdles

CRANFORD, NJ  — A comprehensive Rahway River Flood Mitigation Project has been in the works for 20 years, and while a plan has been selected, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Hector Mosley said there are still hurdles.

“Flood risk management in the Rahway River Basin is a challenging issue from an economic, environmental and engineering perspective,” Mosley told LocalSource in a Jan. 11 email. “In light of these challenges, the Corps will be meeting with our non-federal partners to review options, and determine the next step in the process.”

Mosley did not specify what those options are.
Despite challenges, a plan is currently awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps chief engineer. Once the chief engineer issues a final report, funding may be appropriated to start engineering, pre-construction and design.

“The residents who have faced severe flooding from the Rahway River have waited long enough for the Army Corps to do as Congress ordered and implement a mitigation plan,” U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, who represents parts of Union County in the 7th District, told LocalSource in a Jan. 11 email. “It is time for a plan to be finalized, designed and for work to begin. Time is of the essence.”

The project is to be funded as follows: 65 percent by the federal government, 25 percent by the state, and 10 percent by county or local governments, former Cranford Mayor Dan Aschenbach wrote in a Jan. 7 press release, who is a coordinator for the Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control. The Mayors Council is comprised of representatives from several towns along the Rahway River in Essex and Union counties affected by flooding during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.

In a Jan. 7 Mayors Council press release, the topic of funding was addressed.
Officials including Lance, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne and U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker successfully advocated to include the Rahway plan in the 2018 Water Resource Development Act, according to the release.

“The Water Resources Development Act outlined congressional priorities, and a solution for the Rahway River deserved to be included,” Lance told LocalSource on Jan. 11. “The bipartisan bill passed and was signed into law. Its recommendations — including those important to our communities — must be put into place.”

The flood mitigation project was first commissioned for a study authorized by Congress in March 1998.
Following Hurricane Irene — which caused more than $100 million in damage along the Rahway River — and Superstorm Sandy, $1 million was approved to complete the studies. The Rahway River in Cranford and Robinson’s Branch in Rahway are two areas that experienced the most significant flood damages during major storm events.

“These communities were heavily impacted by Hurricane Irene with over 350 Cranford homes flooded on their first floors in bedrooms and kitchens,” Aschenbach told LocalSource.

While the plan is not expected to be completed by 2023, according to the USACE’s original schedule, the Mayors Council has turned its efforts toward mitigating flooding on the local level.

Springfield leaders who are part of the Mayors Council are urging that the Morris Avenue Bridge be replaced, Aschenbach told LocalSource.
“Morris Avenue Bridge has been long delayed and the replacement has flood mitigation local benefits,” he said.

Cranford will also be undergoing local flood mitigation efforts. The town will soon commence construction of its Phase 2B project, which will provide flood relief in the northeastern quadrant of town, with construction primarily in the area of Riverside Drive, Commissioner Ann Dooley told LocalSource on Jan. 10.

Construction bid documents for this project should be prepared by March, and construction will be three-to-six months once started, Dooley said.

Dam sluice gates, which control water levels and flow rates in rivers and canals and are located at Sperry and Droescher’s Mill, are a
lso to be replaced. Limited desilting also will take place this year, Dooley said. Desilting is the process of clearing sediment from around dams.
“During the capital budget process, we will be considering additional de-silting beyond the limited amount that will be permitted by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in connection with the dam repair,” Dooley said.