Mayors Council hopeful that flood mitigation plan will move forward

MAP-mayors council meeting-W
Photo Courtesy of Dan Aschenbach
From left are Union County engineer Tom Mineo; former mayor and current Cranford Commissioner Tom Hannen; Springfield Mayor Jerry Fernandez; former Millburn mayor and present Committeeman Robert Tillotson; Cranford Mayor Andis Kalnins; Kenilworth Mayor Anthony DeLuca; Cranford Deputy Mayor Mary O’Connor; and Winning Strategies principal Robert Zucker.

ESSEX COUNTY / UNION COUNTY, NJ — Mayors representing the communities along the Rahway River met this week on March 31 at Springfield Town Hall, at a meeting hosted by Mayor Jerry Fernandez, according to a recent release from former Cranford Mayor Dan Aschenbach. The meeting was scheduled originally to hear the results of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended course of action on the flood mitigation plan that has been developed over past two years. After 10 alternatives were narrowed to three, March 31 was the date scheduled for moving to the next step, which was the U.S. Army Corps recommendation of the best alternative from a benefit-cost perspective. The final alternative, while much assessment has been done on it, is still not ready for public review but it is close, according to the release.

More than $100 million of damages was faced by residents along the Rahway River during Superstorm Irene and no improvement in the situation has yet been done. The federal and state Rahway River Flood Mitigation Plan has significant flood mitigation benefits, including material water elevation reductions from Millburn to Rahway.

The plan includes modification to the Orange Reservoir to store more water during peak storm conditions and there are proposed channelization improvements from Lenape Park through Cranford; and investigations are ongoing for improved storage in the Robinson Branch part of the Rahway River in the city of Rahway.

Before this solution had been chosen, many Essex County residents were upset that a possible option would have created a detention basin in South Mountain Reservation. Residents feared that such a basin, which would have filled and then drained within three days, would have significantly harmed the local flora and fauna.

Last month the Mayors Council, which includes Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, former Millburn Mayor Robert Tillotson and current Millburn Mayor W. Theodore Bourke, went to Washington, D.C., to make the case before Congress for construction funding of the Rahway River flood mitigation plan funding. This was their third visit. The effort has reached a critical juncture and a funding authorization bill is expected to be before Congress later in the year. The mayors will meet in the next month with New Jersey officials in Trenton to urge acceleration of the state’s part of the funding of the plan.

Positive news mentioned at the recent meeting was that $774,000 in funds from the federal and state governments have been included in fiscal year 2017 for the continuing work. Mayors expressed appreciation to senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez and representatives Leonard Lance and Donald Payne. Also, both Booker and Menendez are proactively working on the Senate Subcommittee to urge funding of potential WRTA federal authorization for the projects, according to the release.