Towns return to Rahway flood drawing board

Memories of Hurricane Irene will linger even a bit longer now that towns along the Rahway have had to return to the drawing board with a flood mitigation plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejecting the latest proposal.

RAHWAY, NJ — The group of towns along the Rahway River looking for help mitigating potential flooding has devised its 12th plan to reduce the chances for the waterway overspilling its banks. The previous plan reached the final approval stages before it fell through last year.

The previous plan, Alternative 4a, was not approved by the New England District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to concerns raised by its chief engineer regarding the forecast-based water release from Lenape Park in Cranford.
Former Cranford Mayor Dan Aschenbach, coordinator of the Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control, told LocalSource that the council had to simply “go back to the drawing board” after Alternative 4a was not approved.

“This new conceptual plan is another iteration of the original plan to review,” he said in the June 5 phone interview.
“Many things have already been approved, but they’re now reevaluating, among other things, a change in the spillway at Lenape Park, renovation and expansion of Campbells Mill Pond,” Aschenbach added.

The new plan includes the following changes: a locally supported storage project at the Orange Reservoir in Essex County; a more acceptable renovation of the Campbells Mill Pond dam; changing the spillway at Lenape Park; the channelization of 1.5 miles in Cranford; and house-lifting and acquisitions in Rahway.

Discussion of flood mitigation along the Rahway River goes back nearly two decades. And since 2012, mayors and governing boards of the eight directly affected communities in Essex and Union Counties have been working with federal and state elected officials to create a workable plan, according to Aschenbach. Previous alternatives have not been approved due to either local concerns or lack of passing the federal cost-benefit test.

The project could cost up to $60 million, with 65 percent of that funded by the federal government, 25 percent by the state, and 10 percent by county or local governments.
Essex County officials must review the plan before it is sent to the USACE chief engineer for final approval. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection also has to approve the plan.

“There is clearly a sense of urgency to get this done, as there has been for a couple of years now,” Aschenbach said. He added that many officials, such as U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and Reps. Tom Malinowski and Donald Payne, have been supportive throughout the process.

Aschenbach, who served as Cranford’s mayor during Hurricane Irene, said he walked the streets for weeks trying to help residents during the flooding, which caused more than $100 million in damage.

He said the Cranford flooding “became a very serious situation from a public safety standpoint and I, as well as others, have stayed involved with this to try and finally get it done.”

Springfield Mayor Erica Dubois said that, although it’s her first year serving on the Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control, she can see that it’s frustrating to see another revised plan come forward.

“I am learning that it definitely moves very slowly, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of people’s thoughts to consider when they are working through this,” she said in a June 7 email.

“The people in attendance at the meetings are hopeful that this plan could be accepted,” Dubois went on to say of those attending the mayors council.

“We need a plan that is balanced, that protects the natural resources of the South Mountain Reservation and the environment while bringing flood relief to Millburn and downstream,” Millburn Mayor Dianne Thall Eglow, who hosted the recent mayors council meeting, said in a recent press release from the council.

“It is imperative that all stakeholders are included and have full acceptance for a plan to be implemented.”
Union Mayor Michelle Delisfort and Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin, who represent townships on the mayor’s council, did not respond to requests for comment regarding the new revised plan.