The Millburn Township Committee on Tuesday decided to spend up to $43,000 for an in-depth study of its sanitary sewer system to find out just how much it will cost to make improvements to prevent it from overflowing into residents' homes and into the streets during big storms.
Part of the South Mountain neighborhood, in particular, was hit hard during Hurricane Irene – not by the storm itself but by sewage that filled their basements and first floors of their homes long before the Rahway River breeched its banks and flood walls.
The study will look at Millburn’s pipes and the pipes leading into area’s system, run by the Joint Meeting, which serves seven communities. One of the issues for Millburn is that the flow from all of those communities, including Summit, Maplewood and South Orange ends up converging in the South Mountain area before funneling into larger pipes that carry it to the plant in Elizabeth.
One of the problems is that system is old, and cracks allow ground water in, overwhelming the system.
"We're finding that he storm really hurt these old systems," said Engineer Ron Piccolo of Hatch Mott MacDonald. "We had an earthquake and a hurricane. There's a lot of damage."
The Township Committee on Tuesday night also got a look at some of the potential costs of improving the town’s stormwater sewer system and preventing the constant drainage problems in three areas of the neighborhood – Greenwood Drive, Haran Circle, and Ridgewood Road.
This project would be for a 25-year storm and would alleviate the day-in, day-out problem the neighborhood experiences when it rains.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” said neighbor Dianne Eglow of Greenwood Drive. “We have lived with this for 20 years. We can’t grow grass. We have constant puddling, we have mud. We have mosquitoes. If we can solve this, it would be great.”
The problem, say some neighbors, is that they typical rains don’t everyone, but they all flooded during Irene – either from sewage or from the river overflowing its banks.
Mayor Sandra Haimoff and other members of the committee explained that they hope that all the efforts they’re making – helping with the regular drainage problems and working with towns up and down stream and working to lower the water levels in retaining ponds and lakes in the reservation before a storm, will all work to reduce flooding during another Irene.
“We are never going to stop another Irene from flooding, but if we can solve all this and work with other towns, it’s all going to come together to mitigate the problem,” Haimoff said. “And, hopefully, it will be less than what we saw in this past storm.”
The price tag for the project could get has high as $4 million when you include pumps, drainage pipes, installation, construction and other project costs, estimates engineer Leo Coakley with Hatch Mott MacDonald, which is working with several towns along the Rahway.
If the backyards along the river side of Greenwood are deemed wetlands by the Department of Environmental Protection, Coakley said, they would be unable to put drainage pipes along there.
The town would have to study the soil to find out for certain and that might not be the best idea for homeowners, committee members suggested, saying they would meet with affected residents before making that decision.
If the township and residents don’t want to determine the wetlands status of the backyards, or if the yards are determined to be wetlands, the township could build a swale – which would allow water to flow out of the yards and back into another part of the river more naturally. Coakley described a swale as a gently sloping drainage ditch that could be covered with grass.
The township also needs to add pumps the existing pumping station at Gilbert Place and/or add additional smaller pumps that would handle a portion of the neighborhood separately. In addition, the township could consider building a retaining wall near the dike at Haran Circle.
While not all the figures are in, Coakley estimated that the project cost for the storm sewer installation would be $1,065,000 and the construction cost estimated at $888,000. In addition, a “ball park” figure for the pumping station would be $1.6 million and $600,000 for the smaller pumping station that would cover a couple of zones of the neighborhood.
Those costs don’t include any costs that will occur with the improvements to the sanitary sewer.
The Township Committee is going to review Coakley’s report and decide what is the best course of action, while they wait for the report on the sanitary sewer system, which will come with more cost estimates.
“We need to get over the sticker shock,” said Committee Member Tom McDermott. “When we get the study [on the sanitary sewer] we’ll better idea where we are going to go with all this.”
The township is also working with other towns to mitigate flooding up and down the Rahway, which they hope will alleviate the flooding on the west branch of the river, particularly downtown and nearby neighborhoods such as Washington, where homes were also flooded with several feet of water.