Rahway flood plan moves to New England corps for help

Photo by Brian Trusdell
The Rahway River was pushed to its banks again in Cranford near the Springfield Avenue Bridge with the arrival of winter storm Riley on March 2.

ESSEX AND UNION COUNTIES — The multimillion-dollar plan to mitigate major flooding along the Rahway River has reached the final approval stage and, to help move the project along, the review process has been transferred to the New England District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, officials said.

“It’s not uncommon for work to be shared across districts within the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District spokesman Hector Mosley said in an interview. “The New York District will be working with New England District to move this project forward, with a transition plan expected to be completed by early spring of 2018.”

The New England District has the largest portfolio of dams in the region and is home to the Regional Dam Safety Production Center for the North Atlantic Division, Mosley added. The DSPC in Concord, Mass., is one of seven regional centers in the country that compiles dam safety modification reports, produces design documentation, plans and specifications, provides engineering support during construction, and serves as a construction liaison.

The selected flood mitigation plan now before the corps’ chief of engineers for final approval is titled “Alternative 4a,” and focuses on the Orange Reservoir Dam in West Orange and follows the waterway through Union County to the Arthur Kill between Linden and Staten Island.

The plan calls for the expansion and widening of channels along the Rahway River and for placing two 36-inch diameter drainage pipes into the Orange Reservoir Dam.

The pipes would allow for the controlled release of water through the Rahway River two days prior to a storm, lowering the level of the reservoir so it can absorb excess rainfall.

“This is important since it would hold back stormwater during flood events, lowering river elevation downstream,” Mosley said.

In addition to the approval of “Alternative 4a,” the 20-year project that was first commissioned by Congress in 1998 still needs appropriate funding.

Two critical steps in funding need to be established for the project’s execution, according to former Cranford Mayor Dan Aschenbach, coordinator of the Mayor’s Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control, which is comprised of local politicians in Union and Essex counties along the waterway.

First, “there needs to be appropriation support for funding needed to continue the project assessment and engineering,” Aschenbach said.

Second, “while there is authorization for preconstruction and engineering, the objective is to now get the project included in the 2018 Water Resource Development Act, which will then fund the actual construction of the project,” he added.

While Congress successfully included the project in the 2016 WRDA, the legislation is supposed to be authorized every two years, according to John Byers, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, who represents New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Essex and Union counties among others.

“That has not usually been the case,” Byers said of the WRDA’s biennial renewal. “We will keep up the pressure.”

Having the project included in the 2018 WRDA is critical to obtaining the funding needed once the chief of engineers approves the project, according to Aschenbach.

Calling upon needed support from state officials, Aschenbach said Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration must weigh in on the project’s importance.

When Murphy’s office was asked to comment, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection replied.

“As you know, the administrations have changed, and acting Commissioner Catherine McCabe, who assumed her duties on Jan. 22, will be fully briefed on the study in the near future,” NJDEP spokesman Larry Hajna said.

The project could cost up to $60 million, with 65 percent funded by the federal government, 25 percent by the state, and 10 percent by county or local governments.