Jul 28, 2014
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Residents Want Answers to Flooding; Worry About Rain

Township Committee sets up subcommittee to review infrastructure and other challenges during the storm.

Residents Want Answers to Flooding; Worry About Rain Residents Want Answers to Flooding; Worry About Rain Residents Want Answers to Flooding; Worry About Rain Residents Want Answers to Flooding; Worry About Rain

Updated; 12:40 p.m. See editor's note at the end.

While rain fell all day and evening, residents in neighborhoods hit particularly hard by flooding during Hurricane Irene, waited, watched and worried.

Some took a break to attend the Township Committee meeting Tuesday night to seek a special town hall meeting so residents can find out why their homes flooded and what’s going to be done to prevent it from happening again.

“We want to be reassured, and even proud that, we have a local government willing to take swift and immediate action to investigate the persistent flooding problems,” said South Mountain resident Andrew Fingerman, who surveyed his neighbors to bring their concerns to to Town Hall.

The Township Committee created a subcommittee to address the flooding and all the other issues associated with the storm that left the town without water and thousands of residents without power for the better part of a week.

Mayor Sandy Haimoff said the subcommittee will meet with various departments and review challenges during Irene to better meet these challenges in the future. It will also take a look at infrastructure improvements and meet with representatives of neighboring municipalities, as well as state and county officials. 

“The problem with a river is what happens up stream affects what happens downstream,” she said.

Residents in South Mountain neighborhood and on Rector Street near downtown said the water was rising again and they were afraid if keeps up they’ll flood a second time in little more than a week.

“There’s water coming in my basement now,” said Fingerman, who lives on Greenwood, one of the harder hit streets in the South Mountain area.

Residents praised the police, fire, sanitation and public works department for their hard work during the hurricane and its aftermath, but took the committee to task for lack of communication.

The township and residents agreed that JCP&L’s handling of the power outages “a disaster” and that the company needs to be held accountable.

Millburn Police Lt. Peter Eakley of Millburn’s Office of Emergency gave the committee a run down of what happened in the township before, during after the hurricane. 

"We did every possible action to prepare for this storm," said Eakley, who had repeatedly told residents through reverse 911 and the media to prepare for the worst.

Millburn and Short Hills received nine inches of rain in that 24-hour period, Eakley said.

During the last week, police answered 281 calls for assistance,  the fire department responded to 500 calls and the Public Works Department cleaned debris, cleared streets of mud and silt.

The Office of Emergency Management sent out 15 to 16 reverse 911 calls, sent out two dozen press releases.

Eakley said water flowed over the walls protecting the South Mountain neighborhood that were designed for a 50-year storm but not designed for a 100-year storm, which could describe Irene, he said.

“The town performed very well under difficult circumstances,” Eakley said.

Some residents wondered how nine inches of rain could turn into six feet of water in their basements.

Residents in both the South Mountain area and Rector Street said water rose so quickly, they were convinced something happened like a breach in the wall, a broken dam somewhere or an explosion in the sewer pipes.

Residents on Greenwood and nearby streets along the rain had made only puddles in their back yards around 7:30 a.m. Sunday and a couple of hours later water had filled their basements.

“The flood line is the same as the flood line during Hurricane Floyd,” said Sara Sherman, who after Hurricane Floyd went in with a neighbor and purchased a pump together for their backyards. "It's Floyd revisited."

Residents on Rector, which is near the other branch of the Rahway near Taylor Park, said the same thing happened to them but much earlier in the morning. Their driveways slope toward their homes and before they knew it, the cars in the driveways were submerged.

Another issue for residents was that many had water overflowing from their toilets and sinks and sewer lines. Manholes to the sewer system popped up off the street.

Sewage water was waist high on Ridgewood at Gilbert Place and in other places in the area.

“We’ve brought in people to clean our houses with chemicals with anti-microbial so no one gets sick,“ Fingerman said. "If the large pools of water across our backyards also contained sewage, when is it safe for our children to once again play in grass?  Will the town provide some testing of our soils to address this issue?"

The sewer system is old and easily overwhelmed, said Town Engineer Thomas Watkinson. Even if the township replaced its pipes, there would still be those leading from the homes to the system, he said.

Fingerman said residents are most concerned about what can be done for both the River flooding and the sewage back up. But they also want the township to addresss drainage, flood zones, trimming trees near power lines and better advocacy by the township committee.

"We want to know if this response is typical of what we should expect from our leadership," Fingerman said. "What are the town's standard operating procedures fr visiting community members in crisis? How do Millburn officials mobilize support at the state and federal levely in an emergency?"

Mayor Haimoff said she was on the phone to the governor and other elected officials right away. But that when it came to the power company, no one could get through.

The next meeting of the Township Committee is Sept. 20. Meanwhile when the subcommittee comes up with a date when people from various departments can be on hand to answer questions, they will announce a public meeting as soon as possible, Haimoff said.

Editor's note: The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a real-time flood stage chart the Rahway River at the spot where it meets Millburn Avenue. It states that flood stage is 6.5 feet and shows that at the height of Irene, the river was almost 10 feet. Click here to go to the USGS website and view the chart.

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