Irene Still Has Twp. Cleaning Up 1 Year Later
Mayor remembers 'heroes' of storm aftermath as flood mitigation committee works on preventing flooding in the future.
One year after the tropical storm following Hurricane Irene tore through the Northeast, Montville Township officials said progress has been made in ensuring the devastating flooding like some neighborhoods encountered does not happen again.
The storm hit Montville on August 27, 2011, but residents began preparing days in advance by stocking up on supplies and planning for power outages. Despite having advance warning of the severity of the storm and Montville officials coming together to strategize, the actual destruction the storm brought in several neighborhoods in the township was worse than many expected.
Remembering how bad the damage of the storm was, Montville Township Mayor Tim Braden called the local firefighters "heroes" for the work they did helping residents whose homes were damaged.
"Most of the credit for the Irene response goes to our first responders, namely the police department, the First Aid Squad and, most importantly, the fire departments," Braden said. "The fire departments worked through the night, pumping out dozens of homes, allowing residents to re-occupy when the flood waters receded. They are the heros of Irene."
During the storm's aftermath, organizations worked together to assist residents in need. The Montville Township Board of Education even opened its facilities to the community.
"The board of education made the high school available for shelter and showers for Montville residents," Braden said.
Cleaning up after the storm took effect immediately, but has been a continuing effort ever since.
"The township provided pick up of debris for three months following the storm. We contracted with our trash hauler to collect debris in storm-affected neighborhoods," Braden said. This effort alone cost the township more than $60,000.
For some Montville residents, particularly in Pine Brook and areas near Hatfield Creek, the flooding was so devastating they were ready to offer up their homes to be elevated or bought out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). About 300 homeowners were notified about the FEMA grant program and 52 residents applied, with help from the township.
But according to a township official, none of the residents who applied for the program heard back from FEMA, meaning none of them have been accepted to be awarded the grants. Morris County has its own grant program that gives accepted homeowners who live in flood-prone areas money to vacate their homes to be leveled for flood mitigation. However, the county will only provide 75 percent of the funding through the program, with the municipality or homeowner asked to pick up the additional 25 percent.
The township has also not received a response from FEMA regarding grant funding for a generator or for a notification system to be used during other major storm events. Neighboring communities received no response from FEMA for the home elevation grants, an official said, and municipalities have shifted their focus to preventing similar flooding from occurring in the future.
In Montville, Township Committeeman Scott Gallopo and Committeewoman Deborah Nielson sit on a flood mitigation committee that has been working on several related projects.
"We formed a flood mitigation committee with eight residents," Gallopo said. "And we listened to the residents' concerns and we formulated a plan to try to address some of the flooding that exists from the Rockaway River and Hatfield Creek."
The township has joined forces with several other municipalities, including Parsippany and Boonton, to try to receive grant funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for de-snagging. By working with the Rockaway River Watershed Cabinet, even while the municipality waits to see if grant funding is available for Rockaway River flood mitigation, the township is included in having a group of volunteers who have begun cleaning debris in the most damaged areas.
According to Township Administrator Victor Canning, the township is also making progress with de-silting Hatfield Creek. The project is split into two phases, the first involving the de-silting and debris removal under and around Parkway Drive and Walnut Drive. The second phase involves removing silt and debris from a 500-foot stretch of the stream between Rennes Street and Cambray Road. However, removal of the silt is not as simple as it may seem.
"We have determined, professionally, that when we remove the soils, they have to be tested," Canning said at the Aug. 14 township committee meeting. "Should there be any complications with the testing, obviously all work would come to a stop."
Gallopo said once the Rockaway River and Hatfield Creek streams in the township are free of debris and silt, water can flow properly and backup, which leads to flooding, would be mitigated. But the flood mitigation committee is also working on a joint resolution with other municipalities to approach United Water of New Jersey and the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority to see if the water storage level at their reservoir in Boonton can be lowered during hurricane or high storm seasons.
"Perhaps United Water should be running that reservoir at, let's say, 75 percent or 80 percent capacity during hurricane season," Gallopo said.
The owner/operator of the reservoir is mostly concerned with ensuring there is never a shortage of water for customers, Gallopo said, but lowering the capacity during storm seasons could help excessive flooding that results from storms. Gallopo said it is believed that the reservoir, which does not directly benefit Montville, may have been running at 100 percent capacity during last year's storm and as a result, neighborhoods in Pine Brook, near Hatfield Creek and in Lake Hiawatha may have been affected.
Gallopo said the flood committee and township committee are working to pull together the joint resolution which would be presented to the NJDEP and then eventually to United Water after receiving legislative support from New Jersey leaders. He said he feels the resolution may help "in order to prevent another Irene-type flood event where [the reservoir goes] into a hurricane at 100 percent capcaity and they can't do anything."
In the meantime, Braden said the township is continuing to work with its Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and consider how similar events would be handled in the future.
"We continue to evaluate our OEM to provide expeditious response and information in events such as Irene," he said. "Many residents have subscribed to Nixle to receive up-to-the-minute information."
Residents who have not yet subscribed to the Nixle system can do so by registering here.
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