Mayors vote to approve new flood mitigation plan

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control voted at a recent meeting held in Union to endorse the United States Army Corps of Engineers strategy for flood mitigation in the upper Rahway River. The plan is known as Alternative 4a, a revision of one of the 10 alternatives that were being evaluated since the major damage in 2011 as a result of Hurricane Irene.

“The plan is the most economic that brings flood reduction benefits to most people,” said Mayor of Union Miguel Figueiredo to LocalSource. “We urge US Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its construction.”

The plan includes modification to the Orange Reservoir and downstream channel improvements through Cranford. It also had the best benefit cost ratio. Dan Aschenbach, who coordinates the Mayors Council with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, commented about this to LocalSource.

“Federal law requires US Army Corps to select the project that has the best cost benefit ratio,” Aschenbach revealed. “This means the benefits, less flood damage expenses, have to exceed the cost to construct and maintain the project. The assessment is done after extensive economic analysis of costs and benefits. They reviewed 10 alternatives and 4a had strongest ratio of benefits exceeding costs. Over 250 houses are being taken out of flood zone.”

The next steps were taken on July 14 when a presentation of the plan took place in Washington D.C. A final report and review were completed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The environmental review and final review are done by the chief of engineers.

“The United States Army Corps of Engineers Washington headquarters met July 14 and approved proceeding with 4a,” Aschenbach said to LocalSource. “This was an agency meeting without public attendance. The plan now will have public hearings on the environmental impact and will go through other federal agency review. The other alternatives were variations on 4a. The final plan includes modification to the Orange Reservoir for increased flood water storage during storms. Also, funding would be made available to the city of Rahway to get homes out of floodway. And channelization in Cranford that increases river capacity. Both of these will reduce river elevation significantly. Mayors Council at its meeting affirmed its previous approvals of plan and a letter was sent in support to US Army Corps of Engineers.”

Missing from the plan are improvements to Lenape Park. This is due to the cost and environmental mitigation required. Lenape Park was constructed as a flood retention basin in the 1970s and has lost some of its value due to factors such as upstream over-development.

“Lenape Park has important flood water storage potential but the project was not economic,” Aschenbach told LocalSource. “The plan included higher flood dams but also buffers that would cost in excess of $40 million and have environmental impacts. More conservative engineering was the main cause of this project being eliminated from final plan. A local plan is being considered.”

The Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control includes Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo, Former Millburn Mayor Robert Tillotson, Cranford Mayor Andis Kalnins, Millburn Mayor Ted Burke, Rahway Mayor Sam Steinman, Springfield Mayor Jerry Fernandez, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca and Kenilworth Mayor Anthony DeLuca. Attempts by LocalSource to contact Kalnins, Steinman and Kenilworth mayor, DeLuca were unsuccessful.