CRANFORD, N.J. — Six more homes in the municipality on or near the Rahway River will be repaired to fix flood damage and elevated to try to prevent it in the future under a contract approved by the township committee at its Jan. 7 meeting.
The vote was the second time the council has selected Millennium Strategies of Morristown for the administration of a grant awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The company handled a FEMA grant for similar purposes received by Cranford in 2012. Work began on six homes in 2013 and 2014.
More than 100 more homeowners within the township have applied for grant money since the inception of the FEMA program.
Individuals and families seeking grants are evaluated for “repetitive loss” and “severe repetitive loss,” which are levels of the type of damage. FEMA evaluates whether the project is worthwhile based on its cost/benefit ratio.
During Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, about 1,300 residences — more than 15 percent — in the township received what officials termed “significant” flood damage when the Rahway spilled over its banks and inundated several sections of the township, especially the downtown area. Nearly 200 houses had water up to the first floor. More than a quarter of the residents in the town of fewer than 25,000 lost power.
In a written statement on Jan. 10, Mayor Patrick Giblin praised the program but noted that there is still much progress to be made on resolutions to the issue of flooding in Cranford.
“The home elevations, while helpful to select homeowners, are a Band-Aid to Cranford’s overall flooding problems,” he wrote. “We will continue to push for increased upstream capacity at the Orange reservoir and Lenape Basin. Additionally, recommended USACE projects include channelization at parts of the Rahway River in Cranford.”
Giblin’s statement referenced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which last fall rejected the latest proposed Rahway River flood mitigation plan.
Other officials were grateful that Cranford was selected for help by FEMA, which has allocated just under $1.7 million for homes in the township in this round.
“We’ve applied on a number of occasions and not gotten the award,” township committee member Tom Hannen said on Jan. 10. “This time, we got the award.”
The six homes that have been selected for grant money have been approved for 100 percent of the cost of repairs.
“Last time we did this, it was only a 75-percent award,” Hannen said. “So the residents had to come up with 25 percent of the cost.”
In the previous round, 25 percent typically cost homeowners around $50,000.
Cranford began its conversations about grant funding after Irene, which occurred about a year before Tropical Storm Sandy hit.
“What happened was, we were due to start just before Sandy hit,” Hannen said. “Once hurricane Sandy hit, the price, or the cost, to do this work went up significantly, because the firms moved to the Jersey Shore and were doing all of the elevations and building there.
“So, the advantage with this particular brand is it’s 100 percent FEMA funded. You don’t get this all the time, but that’s the way this one came about. Going forward, you don’t know what FEMA’s going to be doing in the future.”
Because of elevation limitations, the zoning board will need to allow height exemptions for homeowners who need to raise their homes to prevent flood damage in the future.
“With elevating it, you eliminate that damage from occurring in the future, so that they don’t have to continue to pay out flood insurance payments,” Hannen said.
While gaining an exemption from the zoning board requires an additional step in the process, all homeowners were granted this exemption last time FEMA granted this award to Cranford residents.
“So, what this does is, because we don’t have someone in-house, we hire an outside grant firm. But then, they’ll administer the grant on our behalf.” Hannen said. “What happened was, those people came to the zoning board and had to apply for an exemption to that. So, the last time around, they were all granted. It’s an additional process they have to go through depending on how tall the house is right now.”