Rahway hires engineer to examine Orchard Brook flooding

RAHWAY, N.J. — An engineering firm will look into flooding complaints from residents who live along the Orchard Brook after City Council on Oct. 7 approved a contract for a study of the area around the waterway.

Neglia Engineering Associates will survey the stream and recommend solutions after numerous residents at the Oct. 1 council meeting complained of flooding, including one Murray Street resident, who said a heavy downpour requires her to move her car for fear it will be swamped.

“Several residents addressed city council at the Oct. 1 pre-meeting conference regarding drainage and flooding issues in various parts of the city,” Councilman Robert Bresenhan, Jr. said Oct. 7. “Four residents spoke about issues in other areas and were assured that the city would be responsive to their concerns and investigate each situation.”

Several complaints were registered regarding the areas of Madison Hill Road, Kline Place and Orchard Street, which includes Lenz Court. During the summer, heavy downpours repeatedly sent the brook over its banks and creating a hazard, creating a growing concern among area residents. They complained of water in basements, standing water leading to rotting sheds and pooling water creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes. One woman said due to her erosion her “property is literally sinking into the river.”

City spokesman Joe Brown, in response to an email inquiry from LocalSource, said city officials have met several times since August with area resident Daniel Gagnon, who has been one of the most vocal residents. Brown also said city workers spent five hours removing debris in an attempt to mitigate the problem Sept. 9.

“It is important to note that multiple properties in this area lie in a FEMA-designated special hazards area,” Brown said in the email. “Areas in this designation from the federal government should be expected to experience flooding during heavy rain events such as those experienced this summer.
“Mortgaged properties in such areas are also required to purchase flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program.”

Gagnon has obtained 500 signatures on a petition to have the city address the flooding.
“Now a lot of people know what’s going on over here,” he said in an interview on Oct. 9. “Really, it’s been word-of-mouth and Facebook groups in local communities.”

The brook runs from just east of the St. Gertrude Cemetery in Colonia, turns south near Orchard Street and into the South Branch of the Rahway River. From there it flows eastward into the main branch of the Rahway River.

“The city — the DPW — de-snagged over by the Lenz Court section,” he said referring to the Sept. 9 work. “The whole rest of the length, they haven’t de-snagged. What they’re saying is, ‘This creek is the responsibility of whoever’s property this is.’ This creek runs through dozens of properties. Residents can’t touch the creek without the permits.

“Now, in Orchard Creek, a lot of the sections have been taken out. Some of the branches are gone, but the sediment buildup is still there. Basically, that sediment buildup is so high in some areas that there’s nowhere for the water to go. … There are collapsing walls on Orchard Creek in sections that are collapsing in most areas,” Gagnon stated.

Councilman Bresenhan said the city is determined to address the problem.

“This is something that we have been working on here jointly within the city, including the mayor, the council, our city engineer Jackie Foushee, our business administrator Mr. Landolfi … and also the people of the Orchard Street Brook neighborhood, including Lenz Court in that area,” he said.

“I know this is a problem that has been going on. I know this has been going on 75 to 90 days, and we do now have an engineering firm that we are looking to work with to study what’s happening in this creek. It ties into the Rahway River, which is a 24-mile estuary in the state of New Jersey here. There’s a whole project studying flooding and flooding in this area which started back in 2016 with a congressman you may remember — Congressman Lance. The study is still going on.”

Gagnon said he was grateful for the latest move by the Rahway City Council, but said he has reservations about what it will accomplish.

“I’m glad that they’re having the study done, but first of all, with the study, they’re just going to look at the flood hazard maps,” he said. “Now that I’ve gotten a lot of other people involved, 20 people spoke. I gave them a petition with 500 signatures on it. Everybody that I’ve spoken to in the city has been in support of them taking care of this waterway.”