Flooding of the Mahwah River is a regional issue that needs support and collaboration from both Mahwah and Suffern residents to work toward a solution.
That was the message of the ‘Concerned Citizens of Suffern,’ a citizens advocacy group that formed last year to push local flooding issues onto the NJ, NY and federal agenda. The group has hosted two meetings this month – one a think-tank for local officials and the other an information session for residents – that brought together concerned residents of the two neighboring towns.
“We are really in the educational and outreach phase,” Sam Jannarone, a longtime Suffern resident and one of the five people who formed the Committee after Hurricane Sandy last year, said. “We want to bring this issue to the forefront.”
At a meeting on March 2, the CCS invited Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Roe to meet with officials from Suffern and Rockland County to discuss current flooding issues, and what can be done to remediate them. Suffern, Jannarone said, is looking into some local projects that could add to some anti-flooding projects Mahwah took on last year, including the dredging of Winter’s Pond and the de-snagging of the Masonicus Brook.
Last year, Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that approved the creation of an 18-member Rockland-Bergen Bistate River Commission made up of officials and residents of both states.
However, New York legislators have not yet passed the bill.
“Budget negotiations are ongoing in Albany,” Jason Elan, the Communication Director for NY State Senator David Carlucci – who sponsored the bill in NY – told Patch Wednesday.
“We are hopeful that the bill will end up being passed.”
According to Roe, Mahwah is continuing to do smaller projects that will help to alleviate immediate flooding concerns. The township is engaged in projects to remove debris from the Mahwah River and other waterways, and submitting applications to FEMA for grants to either elevate homes in flood zones, or have FEMA buyout continuously-flooded homeowners in West Mahwah.
The township hosted a similar flood conference with officials from throughout the area last year.
Roe said the roundtable with Suffern and Mahwah officials was part of an “ongoing process,” in an attempt to better flooding conditions along the Mahwah River.
Suffern Mayor Dagan LaCorte agreed that the CCS is the next step in a long history of the two towns collaborating.
"[Mahwah and Suffern] are working together, and we always have been," he said. "We are willing to work with anybody who has ideas on how we could better the situation."
Last Saturday, over 100 residents from Suffern and Mahwah attended an informational meeting the CCS hosted in Suffern.
Mahwah resident Maria Steiper, who returned to her Brakeshoe Place home last summer after it flooded during Hurricane Irene, said she felt the collaboration between the two towns and states is a positive thing.
“[A] way to get [regional anti-flooding projects] to come alive is with people from all sides coming together,” she said.
According to Jannarone, the group’s eventual plan is to contact the Army Corps of Engineers to revive a regional flood remediation plan it put together in the 1990’s, but abandoned after it did not get support from NY and NJ.
“For the federal government to get involved, we have to have local sponsors, too,” he said. “So, we need to bring the residents of Suffern and Mahwah together to start here first.”
Jannarone said the group is looking for members from both towns.
“Even if you are high and dry, flooding impacts all of us – neighbors, taxpayers, people who drive up and down Franklin Turnpike or Route 202,” he said. “We are looking to get anybody and everybody involved.”
The CCS operates a Facebook page with updates for concerned area residents.