Officials Say Curb Development In Flood Basin
William Paterson hosts educational symposium on how to alleviate and plan for future flood events in Passaic County. Residents say solutions aren't enough.
Continuing home buyouts and elevation projects, examining possible long-term mitigation solutions, and curbing development.
Local, state, and federal officials spoke about those flood-alleviation strategies at a symposium on Passaic County flooding at William Paterson University Wednesday.
Officials said those strategies need to continue as part of an overarching plan of alleviating flooding in the Passaic River Basin.
Residents living in the basin have pleaded with officials to come up with a long-term solution to flooding. Some have suggested a water tunnel leading out to Newark Bay. Others want floodwalls and levees constructed throughout the basin. Residents have been particularly vocal about finding a solution ever since Hurricane Irene caused historic flooding in Wayne and the surrounding municipalities last August.
Wayne is in the process of buying out more than 50 homes in the Hoffman Grove section of town and dozens elsewhere.
Keynote speaker Jeffrey Hoffman said that such solutions were considered when then-historic flooding swept through Paterson in 1903. Solutions included creating several flood control reservoirs throughout the basin. Water could be channeled and drained into these otherwise dry reservoirs during flood events. Creating a flood tunnel was also examined, but these plans were ultimately not implemented.
Hoffman is chief of water supply modeling and planning with the New Jersey Geological and Water Survey with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Hoffman said that climate change, increased development in and upstream from the basin, and changes in the geology of river walls have significantly exacerbated flooding in the basin.
“With less soil and more impervious coverage there are fewer places for the water to go,” Hoffman said.
A panel of local, state, and federal officials answered a variety of questions regarding disaster planning and responsiveness.
Residents living in the 100-floodplain have said at various community forums and government meetings since Irene that although they knowingly purchased a home in the floodplain, they did not count on being flooded as much as they have been in the past two years. Some Wayne residents have been flooded three times and were displaced for months after Irene.
Bill McDonnell said that more outreach in the basin should be done to better educate residents of the potential risks of living in the area. He also said state- and federally-funded mitigation projects must continue. McDonnell is a mitigation outreach specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said FEMA has provided $40 million recently to acquire, demolish, or elevate properties in the basin.
The DEP has set aside $2 million in Green Acre funds and is working on getting another $8 million to help purchase 174 properties in the basin that qualify to be bought out. That mitigation strategy is one of many laid out in an updated 15-point plan on flooding in the basin the DEP released last month.
Panelists also stressed the need for county and local officials to work together to curb development in the basin.
Roy Messaros, a costal and hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that municipalities in the basin should be forced to re-examine their zoning and development laws.
He said increasing development and allowing more impervious surfaces, like concrete and asphalt, to exist in the basin does not allow the floodplain to do what it is supposed to do, move the water out of the area.
Residents have been particularly critical of the 15-point plan, which states that the floodgates on the Pompton Lake dam do not contribute to downstream flooding. They say the gates protect communities upstream at the expense of their neighbors downstream.
“It’s not fair to make the floodwater disappear at the expense of people living downstream,” said David Rosenblatt, an administrator with the DEP’s Office of Engineering and Construction. “We have to convince the upstream communities that they have a role in alleviating flooding everywhere.”
Some residents at the event were critical of steps officials have already taken to alleviate flooding. A small group passed out pamphlets outlining their concerns to attendees.
“They’re spending a lot of money to buy people out, but it seems they are just working around the margins and not really solving the real problem,” said Don Leich. “There are too many small municipal and state groups trying to figure out what to do. There has to be some kind of large commission created that can identify what the problems are and how best to solve them.”