Mayors Council Focuses On Assessing Damages From Irene

MILLBURN — At its March meeting in Millburn, the Mayors Council On Rahway River Watershed Flood Control made it a top priority to better define the extent of the damages left by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  The current estimate is over $100 million of damages to schools, business districts and homes.

The council believes that information could help obtain federal and state funding for flood control efforts.

The Mayors of the 11 participating communities have been working along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate flood control alternatives that could protect residents and businesses from future storms.  One initiative is the development of the South Mountain Regional Detention Facility that U.S. Army Corps estimates could lower water elevations during peak storm conditions by almost three feet in Millburn, Union, and Springfield while also benefiting Cranford, Maplewood, Kenilworth and Rahway.  Other projects include Lenape Park and Robinson’s Branch and channel modifications in Cranford.

As part of the evaluation, the US Army Corps of Engineers will develop a benefits-cost ratio. If a project’s benefits (damages avoided) exceed costs by a certain amount, it is eligible for federal funding of 65 percent of the total cost, while 75% of the remaining cost would be state-funded. The mayors decided to ensure an accurate assessment of the damages was being considered and made it a priority to produce a report that will be provided to federal officials.

According to Dan Aschenbach, “Some of the damages included thus far are:

  • the cost to residents and businesses of the six day power outage due to a flooded power substation causing monetary loss impacts in Cranford, Westfield, Garwood and Fanwood.
  • the Garden State Parkway was flooded and closed with the NJTA losing toll revenues
  • The downtown business districts were closed in Cranford, Millburn and Rahway for several days resulting in small business losses
  • Over 2,500 houses were impacted in the communities with many with first floors damages
  • Cranford’s Brookside School had over $4 million of damage and Cranford’s municipal building first floor was out of service for more than a year”

Millburn Mayor Haimoff said “The Mayors Council on Rahway River Watershed expects the US Army Corps will be evaluating the benefit-cost information over the next several months and we expect to ensure they have as accurate information as possible.”

In other business at the Mayors Council meeting, the mayors of the 11 communities are urging in the FY 2014 state budget funding to investigate the potential impacts of the development of the regional dry detention basin in South Mountain so the County of Essex and the City of Orange can understand the potential impacts of the project including evaluation of any impacts of the basin on water wells and on park inundation of holding back storm water for a few days to let the peak storm pass.  In addition, the acceleration of the US Army Corps of Engineers evaluation of the alternatives in the watershed so that a decision can be made in 2013 on South Mountain, Lenape Park and Robinson’s Branch projects.  Mayors have been contacting the Governor and legislators to urge support.  The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved last week a board resolution in support of the flood control efforts and request to Governor.

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