North Jersey Treads Water on Flood Solution: Part 2, Flood Fix's Long Future

By Christopher Lotito

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112 (Photo credit: Christopher Lotito)
On April 12th 2012, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection issued a decision regarding the Pompton Lakes, NJ floodgates.  Their report, completed by AECOM, stated that the Pompton Lakes floodgates have no impact upon flooding downstream, but do work to mitigate flooding in Oakland, NJ.  While the research performed reached back into decades of storm and flood data for justification, what is now in question is the future of communities downstream from the floodgates.  How will this decision affect our communities?  What impact will this report have in 10 or 20 years?

For starters, it's likely this report will have a chilling effect among state and local planners.  Faced with a final decision issued by the DEP, they will be unlikely to revisit the Pompton Lakes floodgates issue, even if they have concerns, because they perceive that their voices are not likely to be heard by those holding the purse-strings.  So regardless of merit, North Jersey can expect less flood mitigation proposals that address the Pompton Lakes floodgates whatsoever.

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151 (Photo credit: Christopher Lotito)
Not confining themselves to the issuance of the floodgates report, on April 12th, the NJ DEP also presented an information session discussing the progress on the 15 Point Plan.  The DEP and associated officials reiterated that the only projects that will be considered during the immediate future are those that fit within the scope of the 15 points.  That means that things like flood tunnels (large and small) and channelization are entirely off the table, unless they can be recast somehow to fit within the existing points.

Another point made during this presentation was the DEP's commitment to buyouts.  A variety of numbers were cited, all of them large, discussing the number of homes currently in the process of being bought out as well as the many more that are targeted for buyout in the near future.  Resistance to buyouts has included concerns over the loss of tax-dollars as well as the destruction of decades old suburban communities.  Another objection has been the loss of affordable housing, starter homes, and retirement homes that inevitably fall into the buyout targets:

  • Wayne has just bought out the entirety of Hoffman Grove, returning what was once cited as a prehistoric site to the river.
  • Pequannock has had numerous buyouts, but so far these have been largely restricted to those homes directly on waterways and of those, the ones that conform to pre-existent plans for a Pequannock River Walk recreational area.

Pequannock has 3 elementary schools at this time and unless buyouts became so widespread that it was possible to split one school's students between the 2 others, Pequannock will continue to have 3 elementary schools.  This amounts to a greater school tax burden on the remaining residents with each additional buyout, particularly the former A&P site, Pequannock's largest taxpayer, as well as Cedar Crest Village (a 55+ facility with an average move-in age of 82), Pequannock's 2nd largest taxpayer.

Some alternatives exist to buyouts, including elevation, but the DEP greatly prefers buyouts.  Worse, even in the case of elevations, which are likely to become widespread in the next decade, unintended consequences such as "domestic valleys" of 2 or 3 un-elevated homes break-up the visual appearance of the neighborhood.

What has quickly become clear is that like it or not, this single 157 page report and the political climate in which it has been compiled is sure to have long-reaching impact upon the residents of the Passaic River Basin.  Some consequences of the report will be good, others will not be so good.  While this article has focused upon some of the challenges faced at the moment, the following and concluding article in this series will elaborate on some of the good options for flood relief that can be carried out by single municipalities.

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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