CRANFORD, NJ — The Township Committee is moving ahead with a plan to upgrade stormwater drainage to the area prone to flooding when the Rahway River spills over its banks, as it most notably did during Hurricane Irene in 2011.
At its Aug. 14 meeting, the committee voted to authorize the township clerk to advertise for bids for the Northeast Quadrant Stormwater Management Project. According to Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley, this is Phase 2B of a five-part plan to mitigate flooding in and around Riverside Drive, which runs parallel to the river through the township from Nomahegan Park to Union Avenue.
At least 55 new storm sewer lines will be constructed as part of Phase 2B, and will tie into a pump station built during Phase 2A. Phase 2B should be completed in 2019 and the estimated construction budget is $2.9 million, Dooley said.
“The whole point of that is to move water more quickly out of Cranford,” Dooley said in a phone interview with LocalSource on Sunday, Aug. 26.
She said the project will utilize no-cost or low-cost loans through FEMA.
The road to providing flood relief to the town has been a long, complicated one, and Dooley cautioned that “another Irene” could be around the corner.
Cranford, sometimes referred to the “Venice of New Jersey,” was devastated by Irene in August 2011, when the levees were breached and river water rushed into town. Residents who canoed the Rahway on summer days were forced to use them to flee their flooded homes.
Former Mayor Dan Aschenbach, who now sits on the Mayor’s Council on Rahway River Watershed Flood Control, said in a May 30 email that the storm caused more than $100 million in damage to the township, with more than 400 houses suffering first-floor damage, and 1,600 — or almost 20 percent of the residences in the township — suffering some flood damage.
There was significant damage to the police station, municipal complex, high school and the Cranford Canoe Club. More than 70,000 tons of household debris were removed from the township.
Dooley said the town had hoped the Army Corps of Engineers’ Rahway River Flood Mitigation Project, mostly funded by the state and federal governments, and which has been in the works for 20 years, would cure its flooding issues.
A bill that would hasten the start of construction on the project, which stretches from the Orange Reservoir in the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange to Rahway, has been stalled in the U.S. Senate. Officials, including U.S. Rep. Leonard 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 a January press release by the Mayors Council. America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 includes the Rahway River Basin Flood Risk Management Project and would quicken its preconstruction, engineering and design once a plan is approved.
The plan went before the U.S. Army Corp chief engineer, but still needs final approval. When that will happen is anyone’s guess, Dooley said.
“So, the philosophy is, at least my philosophy is, we have to do whatever we can do for ourselves and not rely on our federal government or the state,” Dooley said.
She added that, while the town waited for the Army Corps’ plan to move forward, the state Department of Environmental Protection changed its regulations to require the removal of water at a certain rate, measured in cubic feet per second. The town was left with no choice but to hire a hydraulic engineer to work with town engineer Bill Masol to make the “miniscule” changes needed in order to comply with the new requirements.
She said with Plan B moving forward, the town can finally address the roads near Riverside Drive damaged by flooding. She said many of the roads are in disrepair and that homeowners — perhaps some who did not witness the damage caused by Irene — frequently ask when their streets will be repaired.
“That’s the biggest complaint I get is, ‘When are you going to do my road,’” Dooley said. “I’m like, ‘I can’t do your road until we are done with 2B.’”
The town decided it had to skip ahead and address Phase 5 of the project, repairing the roads in the College Estates neighborhood.
“Those people cannot wait for the rest of the mitigation plan to happen before the streets are repaved,” Dooley said.
The town is also taking steps to desilt the dams in Droescher’s Mill Park and Sperry Park in an attempt to alleviate flooding, by clearing sediment from around dams. But that project also faced setbacks. During the DEP’s approval process, Dooley said, the dams were determined to “potentially be of historic significance,” forcing additional engineering work on the dams that will cost Cranford $27,000.
Once the project can move ahead, desilting will take place annually, Dooley said.