Mayors head to D.C. in flood study funding fight

UNION COUNTY — Now that the Army Corps of Engineers is aboard with the need for flood control efforts along the Rahway River, the mayor’s council on flood control is asking the federal government to fund the next study and more.

On Sept. 10 mayors representing 9 towns will converge on Washington D.C. with the hope that when they stand before the US Congress, Senate and Army Corps of Engineers, they will be able to convince them that final funding of the full Army Corps flood evaluation is critical to the area.

The mayors taking on this task will be armed with a petition that, hopefully, will have enough names on it to give Washington power players considerable pause.

The fact regional flooding from Tropical Storm Irene alone caused $100 million in damages to communities along the Rahway River in 2011 was enough for the mayors of these communities to continue the fight for flood relief.

However, while they have labored long and hard since then to bring flood control to residents living in these communities, the war is not over and may not be for some time to come.

In an effort to help plead their case, the mayor’s council brought aboard a lobbying firm called Winning Strategies Washington to assist them in getting $1 million in funding or more.

Each of the municipalities involved, including Cranford, Rahway, Springfield, Union, Winfield, Kenilworth, Garwood, Maplewood and Millburn, pitched in to pay for the lobbying firm, who has been finding ways to move things along so the study can be completed.

Earlier this year property owners living in flood prone areas heard the first good news in decades: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had come up with multiple alternatives to reduce the severity of the devastating impact of flooding.

While one of the alternatives, a dam in the South Mountain Reservation, was strongly objected to by residents living in that area and eventually dropped as an option, funding of any option the Army Corps decides on is still a major hurdle.

In fact, the Army Corps made it clear in the spring that narrowing the alternatives they came up with will be based on the comparisons and costs of each project along with the benefits.

“The study must undergo further analysis before a tentative plan can be chosen,” the Army corps said, noting that alternatives selected for further analysis had not been approved for funding.

“Completion of the study is also dependent on future federal funding,” one Army corps representative said at a forum in the spring.
Implementing any one of the options presented by the Army Corps could result in the Rahway River dropping 2.6-feet in Millburn and 3.5-feet in Cranford during peak storm conditions, according to former Cranford Mayor Dan Aschenbach, founder of the mayor’s council.

To avoid controversy, on April 24 the mayor’s council voted unanimously to take the dam option off the table and request the Army Corps to do the same and focus on the Orange Reservoir medication option.

The Orange Reservoir option actually would modify the reservoir and elevate existing structures in Cranford to better withstand flooding. The mayor’s council determined the benefit-cost ratio of this particular alternative developed by the Army Corps was significant enough to warrant being a priority project. The Army Corps agreed and removed the dam option from their list of alternatives.
Finding the money for this, or any flood project alternative, is of concern to the mayor’s council.

That is why the mayor’s council went into high gear and is urging residents, regardless if they are in a flood area or not, to go online to sign the petition.

“Cranford can not afford the next phases of needed flood mitigation,” said Aschenbach, adding the benefit-cost ratio will be a key factor in whether congress funds the Army Corps 2014 study.

Since Irene, the mayor’s council has worked with the Army Corps and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to come up with these flood mitigation alternatives, but the lack of adequate funding is still a major stumbling block. In June the mayor’s council urged Gov. Chris Christie, the U.S. Army Corps’ head and the NJDEP commissioner to support their effort.

“We urge getting to the next step. We urge you to demand that the federal government fully fund the completion of this work in the coming year,” said the letter to the governor, adding that if this was not possible, that the state fully fund the completion of the study and request 50 percent reimbursement from the federal government.

Residents in all towns affected by flooding can sign the petition by going to the Cranford website at www.cranford.com/township, where there is a link to the petition.