State budget to provide funding for flood mitigation in Cranford

Cranford Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty speaks at Cranford High School on June 30 as Gov. Phil Murphy unveils the state’s $50.6 billion budget, which includes funding for flood mitigation efforts in Cranford.

CRANFORD, NJ — Plans to address harsh flooding in the township of Cranford are moving forward following the passing of New Jersey’s state budget, which grants $1.8 million for Cranford flood mitigation efforts.

In addition, two new subcommittees were organized in the township to further help identify and solve problems related to flood mitigation and stormwater runoff. Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty said in a press release that the goal of these subcommittees will be to search for ways to lessen the threat of floods on both a local and statewide level.

“We understand there is a great deal of work to be done throughout town, and that’s why we are tackling flooding on various fronts instead of just relying on a regional solution,” Prunty said. “We believe that every improvement will make a difference.”

The efforts come after historic flooding in the area last year during Tropical Storm Ida, which left local homes inundated and destroyed. Elsewhere in New Jersey, 29 people were killed during the deluge. The township is eager to ensure catastrophe does not strike the area again.
“This is the fourth major storm that has devastated our town in just 25 years,” Prunty said shortly after Ida ravaged Cranford. “Our community needs help. We’re not the only ones, but we need help immediately so residents can rebuild and get their lives back together.”

One project, funded partially via the $1.8 million from the state, is the Southside Stormwater Improvement Project, which was pitched by the township back in April of this year. The project focuses on a 50-acre area in Cranford that includes High Street, South Union Avenue, Retford Avenue and Walnut Avenue — four roads that have been repeatedly inundated by floodwaters from the Rahway River.

The project, proposed by engineering firm Mott MacDonald, will be completed in two phases and includes an express sewer and pumping equipment for moving floodwater out of residential areas. The first phase of the project will be funded by the state. The second phase, costing $1 million, will be funded through the township’s capital budget as well as through a contribution from a private developer on the land.
“Having a proposed plan with cost estimates strengthened our funding request and demonstrated our readiness to implement a project,” Prunty said. “Securing this funding demonstrates the importance of collaboration and partnership in local government.”

The township subcommittees have proposed other solutions as well, though most of the projects have yet to be fully
funded and are on a smaller scale. During a meeting in June, the stormwater infrastructure subcommittee gave recommendations to the township on the basic maintenance of river banks, levees, basins and drains. It also proposed the repaving of certain parking lots in the area with a more permeable material to reduce runoff during storms.

Stormwater infrastructure subcommittee Chairperson Ann Dooley said in a press release that the process for implementing solutions is complex, as the township will have to work with surrounding municipalities to cut down on the risk of floods effectively, especially where the Rahway River is concerned.
“The township must get cooperation from Union County to accomplish the necessary improvements, like removal of trees and growth that sometimes create dams adding to flooding,” Dooley said in a press release.

Essex County townships too will need to be involved, as the Rahway River begins there and flows through towns such as Maplewood and Millburn before making its way to Cranford. Essex County towns through which the Rahway River runs were also severely affected by Tropical Storm Ida.

Mitigation efforts are being made on the state level as well. The state-regional planning subcommittee, the second of the two new groups formed, is working with a coalition of towns along the Rahway River to advocate for a flood-control project to be helmed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE is expected to visit Cranford sometime this summer in advance of a public community meeting that will be held around the end September, according to Prunty.

The USACE project is a long time coming, with advocates from towns along the Rahway River. In January, the USACE announced its allocation of funds of $1.5 million to complete the flood protection feasibility study it had started after Tropical Storm Irene back in 2011.

Surrounding communities, especially Cranford and Springfield, have suffered severe, widespread flooding on numerous occasions in recent decades — including during Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999 and Tropical Storm Irene— displacing residents and causing more than $100 million in property damage.

The USACE previously evaluated 21 alternatives. According to the Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control, the USACE is currently further evaluating the proposal to develop upstream storage at the Orange Reservoir in the South Mountain Reservation through a bypass that meets federal standards, dredging or changing the dam. The Mayors Council preference has been a bypass that could lower the water in the reservation either seasonally or prior to a major storm. Such peak storm storage would directly benefit Millburn, Maplewood, Union and Springfield. Upstream storage is required for downstream improvements to provide additional downstream river capacity. The downstream improvements included increasing the height of the Lenape Park embankment dams, 1.5 miles of natural channelization through Cranford and flood mitigation measures in the city of Rahway. Another stormwater infrastructure subcommittee presentation is planned for Aug. 8, when more solutions to the flooding are expected to be discussed. There is much work ahead, but Prunty said she was confident in the township and its ability to work with the state and other municipalities to see this problem solved.

“We know there is a great deal more that needs to be done in other areas of Cranford, and we are working to define additional projects,” Prunty said. “But we view this as a great start and look forward to building on this collaboration for future projects that will bring relief to Cranford’s residents.”