Mahwah, Neighbors To Urge State And Federal Government To Prevent Ramapo Flooding
Impending de-snagging project along the Ramapo one of the many short and long-term solutions discussed
After about two hours of discussing their town’s respective flooding problems, representatives from six municipalities along the Ramapo River left a ‘Mahwah Flood Conference’ Friday morning armed with a commitment to make a regional move to alleviate flooding in the area.
Mahwah’s mayor, town council president, engineer, OEM managers, environmental commission members and residents met with representatives from Oakland, Sloatsburg, Tuxedo, Fairfield and Pequannock with the goal of finding a joint way to work toward flood relief. Each left the meeting with a sample resolution requesting county, state and federal assistance to “reduce the flooding of properties” along the Ramapo.
Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet said he hopes all of the towns present pass the resolution. “There is a problem here that were are all experiencing,” he said. “We need to connect the dots and all work together to fix this. We need to make some noise.”
The general consensus among those at the meeting was that there are two separate initiatives that need to be started: a short-term fix, and a long-term fix.
“You can approach this from an immediate aspect,” township engineer Mike Kelly said. “That can be handled by municipalities. But, you need to keep in mind the long-term projects.” According to Kelly, addressing the problem over the entire river would likely take a decade or two, and be a multi-billion dollar federal project.
Regional representatives at the meeting – Mahwah resident and Bergen County Freeholder Rob Hermansen, State Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, and a representative from State Assemblyman Robert Schroeder’s office – were advocating for the towns to move forward with both short and long-term solutions. The three indicated the cooperation between the towns along the river and the NJDEP and NY Department of Environmental Conservation would be necessary.
“The way you get anything done is by numbers,” Hermansen said. “You need to get everybody saying the same thing, and the state and the federal government will start to listen.” The freeholder, who represents two towns along the Ramapo, Mahwah and Oakland, said he feels that “the fastest way to get aid is through the federal government, because there are two states involved here.”
According to Kelly, getting both NJ and NY to agree to anti-flooding projects has been a historical problem, partially because of bureaucratic issues. Lisa Yakomin, a representative from Schroeder’s office, said a recently passed bill that will form a bi-state river commission will help coordinate future projects that depend on the cooperation of both states.
NJDEP engineer Charles Defendorf said the state agency is also “making it easier to get permits to do these kinds of things.” He said the NJDEP has noticed a need to make it easier for towns to prevent flooding, and “things like that should help.”
Officials at Friday’s meeting expressed multiple times that flood mitigation projects cannot be done on an insular basis. “We need to make sure that something in Mahwah doesn’t negatively affect Oakland, and something in Oakland doesn’t hurt the towns further down the river,” Roy Bauberger of Oakland’s OEM team said.
Mahwah’s Town Council President John Spiech said coordinating anti-flooding efforts “may not be as easy as it sounds,” because different locations experience different types of flooding issues. “But what we don’t need is another study. We’ve had lots of those, what we need here is some action.”
In Mahwah, Laforet said an impending project will de-snag the portion of the Ramapo River that goes from Winter’s Pond to Route 202. Professionals at the meeting said de-snagging projects, which clear snags and debris from the river, would not stop major floods, but should help alleviate flooding during low-accumulation rain events.
According to Laforet, part of the NJDEP permit to dredge Winter’s Pond, which was completed at the end of last year, included a permit to de-snag that portion of the river. But, the permit expires this September. “[The expiration] is kind of a blessing in disguise,” he said. “It gives us a window of opportunity that we need to get this done in.” He said the plans for the project are in place, and the township’s administration is currently working to appropriate funding for it.
Chris Howard of Mahwah’s OEM department said an idea presented by Yakomin was “encouraging.” She said some Department of Homeland Security money may be allocated to Mahwah to help a flooding issue that essentially traps certain residents in their homes. Peggy Bost, a representative of the Deerhaven Association, explained that as often as four or five times a year, she and all of her neighbors “can’t get out until the flood waters go down. That used to happen once every five years,” she said.
Resident George Ervin, who said he “just has a few things left to finish” on his Catherine Ave. home that was flooded during Hurricane Irene, said he thinks the meeting was “a start. I hope more comes from it.”
Mahwah’s town council will consider the flooding resolution presented at this conference at a future meeting.