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Update: Business Owners, Residents Tell Their Flood Stories

Subcommittee continues its fact-finding mission and looks for answers to flooding.

Update: Thursday, Sept. 29, pdf attachment of the engineers' report.

The Millburn Township Irene subcommittee on Tuesday heard from weary downtown business owners and residents, who are still cleaning up after Irene, about what they went through and what they think could be done to reduce the risk of flooding in the future.

In a crowded Township committee room, most of the downtown business owners joined residents to hear engineer Leo Coakley of Hatch Mott MacDonald discuss ways to reduce flood risk including using Diamond Hill Pond in South Mountain Reservation, as well as short-, medium- and long-range solutions to flooding along the western branch of the Rahway River.

As Coakley reported at other flood meetings, Millburn had almost nine inches during Irene, which became the new storm of record, surpassing the 100-year rainfall amount of 8.5 inches in a 24-hour period.  That caused 8,620 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) to flow through the Rahway at its peak compared to 7,990 cfs during Hurricane Floyd.

In addition, in the days leading up to the storm, Northern New Jersey received six to eight inches of rain, completely saturating the land by the time Irene blew on Aug. 28.

 “We had more runoff because the ground was so saturated,” said Coakley. “This was a big storm, to say the least. People said they had flooding in places they never had before. We did have a new storm of record in this area and of course, many concerns.”

Coakley showed photographs of the places in the area that FEMA has designated as a floodway. “It’s a very tricky area to model,” said Coakley.

Among the concerns Coakley addressed was the significant depth of flooding, the major impact on businesses, property, structures and residences, a significant expansion of overland flow.

The township must also address basement flood and determine how much was overflow from the river, how much was from ground water, storm sewers and sanitary sewers, he said.

As he did at the last flood meeting, Coakley presented short-, medium- and long-range potential actions.

“Cooperation is needed, particularly if we do something outside of Millburn. It takes a lot of effort to get anything accomplished beyond Millburn’s borders and even inside Millburn,” said Coakley.

He spoke of getting help from the town of Orange, which has a reservoir. “In summary, this is a new flood of record, and flood control has limitations. Risk reduction does not eliminate all flooding, but you can reduce the frequency and depth of the flooding.”

He outlined the following possible actions for the Township:

  • Short range local improvements for the Washington and downtown areas include repairing damaged wall, determining the storm sewer conditions, protecting garages that sit below street level, and correcting sanitary sewer issues.
  • Medium range solutions involve working with other communities and/or the state to identify obstructions to the Rahway River, indentify potential retention areas, de-silting the Rahway at I-78 and improving the Morris Avenue Bridge in Union County.
  • Long range solutions include creating a regional comprehensive study of the Rahway River Basin, coordinating with Essex and Union Counties and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The intent of the flood meeting was also to gather information from business owners and residents.

Architect and Downtown Millburn President John Buccholz suggested that in anticipation of flooding, stores along Millburn Avenue, where it is known to flood, could put up “Jersey barriers,” which are modular plastic and concrete barriers use to separate lanes of traffic. Mr. Coakley said the concept of barriers “is good and you don’t need a DEP permit.”

Richard Futter, owner of Futter’s Shoes, asked whether the retention basins could be enlarged, and perhaps drained out to leave a larger retention capacity.

 “I hate to sound like I’ve been around a long time,” said Futter, “but after the flood of ‘68, the (US) Army Corps (of Engineers) did come in and do a study and the big basin at Meisel Avenue was partly a result of that. The West Branch (of the Rahway River) was a dirty river bed and the Army Corps  recommended putting a concrete lining in it and KLM engineering firm came and poured concrete, and there has been a reduction significantly.”

Futter also said the Army Corps had also recommended putting a pipe in the Millburn Deli parking lot. “Water wants to go straight,” said Futter. “It doesn’t know from turning the wheel.’

 “That sounds like a good idea,” said Coakley. “You have to comply with flood hazard rules.’

Residents also described the damage to their homes and neighborhoods during Irene.

Stan Kurzweil of West Road, said his sump pumps stopped working because he lost power for five days. He asked Mayor Sandy Haimoff if any legal action would be taken against the power company.

Haimoff said she went to a closed public hearing last Friday with mayors and the CEO of the Board of the Public Utility and the president of JCP&L and a lieutenant from the state police.

 “[The mayors] stood up and each one presented horror stories in their town,” she said. When Kurzweil pressed Haimoff on whether Millburn would take legal action against the power company, Haimoff said she didn’t know. “We can ask that question of our municipal attorney,” she said.

Mary Pat Colicchio, who lives on Church Street, told the committee that her house had four feet of water.

“Our street collapsed,” she said. “We had ground water. The water comes through Taylor Park. I think we need to talk to the county about their responsibility. I don’t need a zip-line, I don’t need a miniature golf course, I don’t need a boat house. I need to feel safe in my home. I don’t need money spent on recreation.”

Martin Wayne, the owner of Bagel Chateau in Millburn , who also owns a bagel store in the Hamptons said: “I’ve been here 35 years, we were involved in the last flood of 1999, and I never thought it would happen again.”

In the Hamptons, where he lives part-time, his business is only eight feet above sea level.

“I expect to be flooded there, but here, I don’t expect to be flooded. This is a man-made problem and man has to fix it. If we don’t fix it, it devalues our town.” Wayne said. “I don’t know how to fix it, I’m a bagel man, I’ll make you bagels. But we have to do something; we can’t just keep on meeting.”

Buchholz of Downtown Millburn said that the bridge on Millburn Avenue is part of the problem. “It’s by poor design that we get the brunt of these storms,” he said. He also added that Downtown Millburn was working with the Paper Mill Playhouse to organize a fundraiser for the town in late October, which he hopes will raise $30,000 to $50,000.

Downtown Millburn is looking into buying 2,000 sandbags and a couple of tandem trucks of sand. “What can we do as a community to prepare for these things?” asked Buccholz.

Ann Rosenthal owns an apartment building on Main Street that her parents bought in 1942. “My parents never had any flooding until 1999 and now.  I had over four feet of water in that building. We had a loss of three water heaters, a furnace and my tenants’ items.”

Rosenthal said one of her tenants, a cantor,  lost a lifelong history of all the Cantorial music he’d collected through Europe.  “It was totally lost and sitting at the curb,” she said. “My heart broke for him.”

Rudy Shtainhorn, the owner of Jhanna Fine Jewelry, said that the larger problem in downtown Millburn is the debris that gets washed from up from South Mountain Reservation, which gets caught in the bridge on Millburn Avenue. “There’s no guarantee that we’re not going to get more debris caught under the arches,” he said.

Also a problem, said Todd Rivkees, owner of Suki’s boutique, were the garbage dumpsters behind Pizzetta, Martinis and Samurai Sushi that were not secured and the garbage floated on the street. “The restaurants have to somehow secure their garbage because that went into one of the arches and clogged it up,” he said.

Short Hills resident and real estate developer Cary Heller said the flooding is hurting downtown in more ways than damage to buildings.

“There’s a loss of business, a loss of pride,” Heller said. “I’ve lost potential tenants, people who don’t want to come to downtown Millburn. Good luck trying to rent the store to anyone who’s familiar with this.”

Ruthi Byrne September 29, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Excellent summary of Millburn's flooding issues.

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