UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey DEP will hold a public meeting Monday at Union County College in Cranford to provide feedback on where they are at with the ongoing study required prior to selecting a flood control alternative for the Rahway River basin.
The meeting, which comes a year after the Army Corps held the last public forum on the issue, will use any information gathered at the meeting Monday as part of the Environmental Impact Statement required by the Council on Environmental Quality’s National Policy Act. This is just the first step in a long process.
The Army Corps, working in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, has been working to develop solutions for the flooding in Union and Essex counties with particular focus centered on Cranford and Rahway.
The process, though, has been mired in federal red tape that have slowed the efforts down to a crawl.
Specifically, the Army Corps has to complete the Rahway River Flood Basin Risk Management Feasibility Study, one of the many steps required by the federal government prior to any proposed flood project being undertaken by this agency. At this point, though, an alternative has not been selected and the timing for when that might happen has not been determined.
In May 2014 representatives from the Army Corps and NJDEP made it clear that residents impacted by floodwaters from the Rahway River had better not hold their breath waiting for a flood project to start in the near future. They indicated, at best, it could be five years before they would be able to move on any project, considering the many steps required by the federal government before undertaking such an effort.
The news was not what many expected to hear, especially because at the time financing for the feasibility study over the next two or three years was not allocated.
While the Army Corps said they could continue in the short term to work on the study using funds left over from 2013, the question of what would happen after that was left unanswered until early this year when additional funding was committed.
In February Democrat U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez announced the federal government had committed $1 million towards the completion of the stalled study required to move flood mitigation efforts forward.
Although Menendez said the critically needed funding would help complete the necessary studies required to move forward with channel improvements, dry and wet flood proofing and other flood mitigation measures, whether this was completely accurate appears to still be in question.
In fact, while elected officials seemed to indicate that an alternative had been selected, it is apparent the Army Corps does not feel the same way.
According to a release from the Army Corps regarding the meeting that will be held Monday, June 15, at 7 p.m. at the Roy E. Smith Theatre at Union County College, there are several alternatives still on the table.
For example, the Army Corps noted the agenda will include discussion of several alternatives, including one that indicates “no action plan.” There was no explanation regarding this option, only that it was one of the alternatives still under consideration.
Also to be discussed during the formal presentation period that is expected to run until 9 p.m. will be non-structural flood risk management measures; Cranford alternative 4, which includes channel improvements within the Rahway River along with modification of the Orange reservoir outlet; Cranford alternative 8, which includes modification of Lenape Park levees and channel improvements; Cranford alternative 9, which includes modification of the Orange reservoir outlet, channel improvements and modification of Lenape Park levees.
Other alternatives on the table include a Robinson’s branch alternative 1, which includes floodwalls, levees, and channel modifications in Robinson’s branch of the Rahway River and Robinson’s Branch alternative 2, which includes modification of the Middlesex reservoir.
The Army corps indicated in their press release regarding the upcoming meeting that the Environmental Impact Statement they are working on requires feedback from residents living in the impacted area about any concerns or issues they may have regarding potential impact to the environment from a future flood project.
In addition the Army Corps also wants to hear any information the public or agencies have on what impact a flood project in the Cranford area would have on natural resources, including plants, animals and particularly wetland habitats.
The Army Corps has a more expansive outline of this planning process, study history, alternatives being evaluated and identification of key environmental resources, all of which will be posted on their web page prior to the meeting at www.usace.army.mil/Rahway.
Confusing is that more than a year ago the Army Corps narrowed down ten possible flood improvement alternatives to just two. However, these alternatives were not broken down at that time to include all the options that might have to be explored in order to offer relief from flooding woes that alone cost Cranford residents and businesses more than $1 billion in damages from Tropical Storm Irene in 2010.
Cranford has been hit especially hard over the years because floodwaters come barreling down from the 31-mile drainage basin to the north of the township.
While there have been many facets to alleviating flooding downstream, the financial end of any project still presents a major stumbling block. Regardless of which alternative, if any, is selected by the Army Corps, the financial cost will not be borne entirely by the federal government.
According to the Army Corps representatives at the May 2014 meeting, 65 percent of any project, regardless of the cost, will come from federal aid, if approved by congress and that remains entirely up in the air at this point in time.
The state, if approved by the legislature, will have to pitch in 25 percent and the balance will be funded by local municipalities.
The Army Corps also stressed at the 2014 meeting that nothing can be done to completely alleviate flooding, it can only reduce the frequency and severity, while providing additional time to respond prior to a flooding impact on the area.