UNION COUNTY — The Mayors Council on Rahway River Watershed Flood Control finally has the ear of those on Capitol Hill and the news is all good for the 200,000 residents impacted by flooding along the Rahway River.
Last week mayors, former mayors and other representatives working to see flood control efforts move forward by the Army Corps of Engineers headed to Capitol Hill to present a petition signed by 2,000 residents from Rahway to Millburn.
Those traveling to the nation’s capital included a contingent from Cranford, one of the hardest hit during storms.
Included from this municipality was former Cranford mayor and founder of the mayor’s council, Dan Aschenbach, current Mayor Andy Kalnins, Deputy Mayor Lisa Adubato and former mayor and current commissioner, Tom Hannen.
Those representing other towns included Union Mayor Clifton People and township administrator Ron Manzella; Rahway Mayor Sam Steinman and administrative assistant Jorge Casalins; Maplewood Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal; Springfield Deputy Mayor David Barnett; and Hatch Mott MacDonald lead engineer Leo Coakley.
At the crux of the problem was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to use Superstorm Sandy funding to fund the completion of a feasibility study, so they did not allocate funds in the 2014 budget. They later discovered that Sandy funds could not be used because “the flooding is not tidal, but fluvial.”
Tidal flooding comes from the ocean, and fluvial flooding comes from inland sources like rain runoff. Flooding during Superstorm Sandy was primarily tidal flooding, while Tropical Storm Irene brought primarily fluvial flooding.
In 2013 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner agreed to fund up to $370,000 in advance of the 50-50 match required in the US Army corps and DEP cost sharing agreement.
It appears that not only was the trip successful, but the mayors received the full support of all the officials encountered, which, according to former mayor Dan Aschenbach, have already initiated efforts with the Army Corps in order to move flood control efforts to the next level.
What this means to residents living along the Rahway River in towns from Millburn down to Rahway is after a long and hard fought battle to get legislators to listen to their plea, the mayors council finally has their ear.
The mayors, who made the trek on Sept. 10, met with senators Robert Menendez and Corey Booker, Representatives Leonard Lance and Donald Payne, Jr., and the office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. Their effort was met with overwhelming support.
“I fully understand the urgency to complete this study and appreciate your efforts in working with the Army Corps and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to narrow down the potential alternatives,” said Menendez to the mayors during the meeting on Capitol Hill, adding “this is my highest priority for the Army Corps to fully fund the feasibility study.”
Booker, a former mayor, echoed those sentiments and then some.
“I know firsthand the devastation that flooding brings on cities,” Booker said, noting that in his meeting with the Mayors Council on flooding “they passionately advocated for federal assistance to mitigate flooding in their towns.”
“The chronic overflowing of the Rahway River has closed roads and devastated businesses and homes. I look forward to working with the Army Corps and my colleagues in congress to make sure we get the funding needed to find the solution to address this problem.”
Payne was equally in support of securing funding for the Army Corps, saying he was very pleased the mayor’s council came to Capitol hill to advocate for this issue.
“Hurricane Irene not only caused immense amount of damage throughout the state of New Jersey, it also served as a warning of things to come if we do not find ways to improve the Rahway River basin,” the representative said, adding that with this in mind he strongly believed that completing the Army Corps flood management feasibility study was “essential.”
“Failure to act will open up our local constituent’s homes, businesses and infrastructure to greater risk,” Payne said, adding that he fully supported the study and commended the Mayors Council for their hard work and dedication.
Lance, the federal representative for several of the towns, threw his support behind the effort also, pointing out that the completion of the feasibility study was “vital to these municipalities.”
“The project has strong merits and this prolonged process leaves thousands of residences, businesses and infrastructure in the towns and counties in the Rahway River basin vulnerable to more flooding and more clean-up costs as a result of future storms,” Lance said.
Residents from impacted towns who signed the petition made heartfelt remarks about how floodwaters have affected their lives.
Cranford business owner Barry O’Donovan was brief in his comment, but the fact he had $300,000 in damages from Irene hit hard.
“We cannot go through this again,” he added.
Others, such as James Bonacorda of Springfield, remarked that flooding in general had increased over the last ten years.
“I attribute this to over-development as well as changes in weather patterns. We need to come up with a plan to provide some degree of relief to this flooding,” he said, adding that the feasibility study was vital to coming up with a plan.
Cranford resident Tracey Lester noted she lived a block away from the river and had witnessed much during her years living there.
“Too many residents here were devastated and financially crippled from Hurricane Sandy. Children had no homes for quite some time. Their schools were damaged. People were rescued by boats. It was a very frightening experience,” Lester said, adding that she knew two families that had to be rescued twice and almost lost a child to floodwaters.
Maria Anderson explained that during the last hurricane, flooding was 17-feet and up to the second floor of homes, while Patricia Sullivan of Springfield said her home was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
“I had $100,000 in damages and was out of my house for a year while it was being reconstructed. I am not alone. Many homeowners in Springfield suffered the same or worse,” she said, explaining that the value of flood damaged homes had decreased while property taxes continued to rise.
Dave Robinson pointed out that because of significant development in towns upstream, regional stormwater now pours into Cranford and residents have experienced 100-year floods with greater frequency.
“The millions of dollars paid in flood losses should instead be proactively spent to protect Cranford from future floods. This is a regional problem that requires federal, state and county funding to supplement the millions of dollars Cranford has already spent,” he said.