15 Sep 2014
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The Floods and the Fury: We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

The New Jersey DEP turns its back on maintaining Bergen County's waterways as homeowners and small business owners suffer the financial and emotional cost of repetitive flooding.

The Floods and the Fury: We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore The Floods and the Fury: We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

Monday night's meeting of the Bergen County Flood Advisory Committee brought out many residents from flood affected towns who have tired of not seeing results on the issue of flooding in their neighborhoods. According to a large group of residents from River Vale who attended the meeting, "We want action and we want it now," they told Patch. "We're not gonna take it anymore."

"There's been no action, no movement and certainly no results, no solutions to flooding," a resident of River Vale, who asked not to be identified, said. 

The Flood Advisory Committee, created by Freeholder John Driscoll after Hurricane Irene to look at flooding on County-wide scale and establish a unified voice in fighting for State and Federal aid, is comprised of mayors and officials from flood affected towns throughout Bergen County.

The mission of the committee is to develop both short and long-term solutions to repetitive flooding that has plagued many municipalities since Hurricane Floyd.

Members of the Committee present at Monday night's meeting included Mayor Marc Schrieks of Lodi; Mayor Ann Subrizi of New Milford; and Councilwoman Betsy Stagg of Oakland. 

The focus of Monday's meeting was on short and long-term solutions to flood mitigation. Although members of the audience from River Vale and New Milford held that the "common denominator" in the flooding equation was United Water's practice of refusing to lower the reservoirs before a major storm event, most agreed that there were other contributing factors. 

Subrizi said, "For many people in other flood affected towns throughout the County, United Water isn't a common denominator."

One major issue raised by the committee was the fact that because all of Bergen County's waterways are regulated by the state of New Jersey, municipalities cannot even remove a tree limb from a body of water without obtaining a permit from the DEP.

"Anything in the river that impedes the flow of water, such as tires or any type of debris, especially after a major flood event, cannot be removed by a municipality without a permit from the NJDEP," Schrieks said. However, he said that since 1999's Hurricane Floyd, towns can remove debris first, but still must obtain a permit from the NJDEP for doing so.

"Somebody needs to maintain the waterways like the roadways are maintained," Stagg said.

"[Bergen County] is just too congested an area for the state or federal government not to address us," she added. 

Stagg said that she has been trying to arrange a meeting between the Flood Advisory Committee and Bob Martin, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Commission (NJDEP), to discuss the maintenance of the waterways and flood mitigation. She told Patch that despite her tenacity in leaving countless detailed messages with his staff, Martin has yet to return any of her many phone calls.

Stagg said that she is not giving up, though. "I'm going to keep pushing; keep fighting," she said. 

She's confident that someone she talks to will eventually get Martin to pay attention to the residents of Bergen County who continue to suffer flood damage even at the slightest amount of rain. 

"If [the NJDEP] want to claim ownership of all the rivers and waterways then they have to maintain them," she concluded. 

Present at Monday's meeting was Sen. Bob Gordon who, along with Assembly members Connie Wagner, Tim Eustace and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, sponsored the bill to appropriate $10 million to address flooding issues at the Marsellus Street bridge in Garfield, located on the lower Saddle River basin where it empties into the Passaic River. The bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie Friday. 

The legislation sought to deal with the issue of debris that gets trapped in the Marcellus Street Bridge resulting in flooding of homes and businesses in Garfield, Lodi, Saddle Brook, South Hackensack and Rochelle Park.

Gordon likened the veto to Christie turning his back on Bergen County.

Gordon said that the major regional priority is flood mitigation along all the rivers in Bergen County. Despite the fact that Christie vetoed his most recent legislation, he said that he is committed to fighting to provide relief to those in Bergen County who suffer the emotional and economic cost of repetitive flooding. 

With regard to flood mitigation throughout all of Bergen County, the committee agrees that any solution requires money.

Schrieks said that the committee is looking to start a subcommittee that can focus primarily on obtaining grant money that can fund dredging, cleaning and de-snagging.  

Subrizi said that the one of the main issues that the committee wants to talk to the NJDEP about is dredging--displacing water in an efficient manner. 

Lt. Dwane Razzetti, head of the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management, was seated with the committee at the roundtable to discuss what his office is doing regarding flood mitigation.

Razzetti said that the increase in flooding throughout Bergen County is due, in part, as a result in the shift in weather patterns. "Floods are not coming from wind driven tide flooding," he said. "It's now coming from 'riverine flooding'."

Riverine flooding is the rise of a river to an elevation such that the river overflows its natural banks causing damage.

As head of the County OEM, Razzetti is focused on both short-term and long-term goals regarding flood mitigation. He said that the piece he is focused on is "flood fighting" and he is currently exploring solutions utilized by the shore area to deal with flooding. 

According to Razzetti, there are items on the market that have proven effective in flood mitigation. He is currently vetting vendors to see what on the market really works. His goal is to offer an "expo" in the fall where municipal OEM's and officials can see what products are available to effectively deal with flood mitigation. 

Razzetti's long-term solution is to band together the flood affected municipalities to obtain grant money. Razzetti said that by banding together, the National Flood Insurance Program's (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) will recognize the communities collective floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements and credit them.

Razzetti said that FEMA wants to see what municipalities are doing to help themselves when considering who to award grant money to. Seminars, training sessions and expos are considered CRS credits.

The CRS system awards points to municipalities for flood mitigation activities, including public education and the clearing of streams and catch basins. For every 500 points a community earns, homeowners get a 5 percent discount in their flood insurance premiums.

"Right now, when we're put up against Passaic County and their flooding issues, the money is going to Passaic County," Razzetti said. "We need to show what we're doing collectively to compete for the grant money," he added.


The next meeting of the Bergen County Flood Advisory Committee is August 6 at 7 pm at One Bergen County Plaza in Hackensack. 


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