April 26, 2011
Pascack Valley Community Life
Borough works to mitigate flooding issues
By Jason Braff
The Westwood Council passed a resolution supporting a senate bill that would make it "easier" for municipalities to remove sediment and debris from streams at its April 19 meeting.
The Westwood Council passed a resolution supporting a senate bill that would make it 'easier' for municipalities to remove sediment and debris from streams at its April 19 meeting. The mayor also announced at the meeting an initiative between several towns involved with the Pascack Waterway Management Task Force, environmental groups, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and United Water to take a tour of the Pascack Brook to find ways to alleviate flooding.
But the resolution and the announcement were not enough to quell the frustration of Westwood residents attending the meeting that night. Upset about the long-time issues stemming from the flooding of the Pascack Brook, residents relayed their concerns to the mayor and council and questioned the strategies of United Water, the company that owns the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir and controls the dam on the Hillsdale and Woodcliff Lake border that connects to the brook.
"The ball got dropped again," said Harding Avenue resident Francis Yates during the public portion of the meeting. "The administration changes, things change. Our problems haven't changed. We still have the same problem and it needs to be fixed once and for all."
Before the well-attended meeting was opened for public comment, Westwood Mayor John Birkner, Jr. explained that the bill the council would be supporting would help remediate some of the issues associated with flooding by pulling back restrictions currently in place to obtain permits from the DEP to clean streams.
A copy of the resolution was sent to numerous elected state officials including Governor Christie, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
The bill, which is sponsored in the state senate by Sen. Gerald Cardinale, would change the current maximum width of a stream bed that could be cleaned by counties and municipalities from 15 ft. to 50 ft. and would delete a provision that only allowed counties and municipalities to clean stream corridors of less than 500 ft. in length. Officials said the current law makes it difficult for municipalities to clean streams without obtaining permits - which takes time and money. Other councils in the region have passed similar resolutions supporting the bill, including Woodcliff Lake and Township of Washington.
Borough Engineer Stephen Boswell said at the meeting that although the senate bill would be helpful, it would not solve the problem.
"Desilting and desnagging is a benefit. There's no question about it," Boswell said. "However if the amount of water that comes through exceeds the capacity of the channel even if it was desilted and desnagged you're going to have an overflowing event."
Birkner also said the Pascack Waterway Management Task Force - a group formed through the Pascack Valley Mayor's Association about a year ago - was working toward a "cooperative stream cleaning effort" that would include an extensive walkthrough of the Pascack Brook led by the DEP with numerous area town officials and United Water representatives. Birkner said the group will physically walk the brook to identify all of the "snagged" areas from Harrington Park to Park Ridge to see what can be done without a permit. DEP representatives will also advise the group what could be done before getting the permit and which permits to apply for, Birkner said.
Birkner also said environmental group representatives from the Hackensack Riverkeeper and the Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network (SWAN) will be a part of the walkthrough.
A meeting will take place on May 5 between Pascack Valley administrators to designate different roles on the taskforce to enact the plan, Birkner said. The collective group would "pool their resources" to apply for one all-encompassing permit to the DEP for all the work to be done, Birkner said in a phone interview this week.
Still fuming from two heavy rainstorms that caused flooding, residents made numerous suggestions to the council to work toward lessening the impact of the flooding issue.
"People are tired," said resident Rod Cassidy of Harding Avenue. The 46-year resident asked the borough administration if the borough could publicize a "flood progress report" on a bi-weekly basis that would keep residents updated on steps that were being taken to help the flooding issue.
Birkner said after the meeting that he would include updates in his address in the MyWestwood newsletter, which is produced by Pascack Valley Community Life. He also said there would soon be a number of links added to the borough's website so residents could monitor the flow of the Pascack Brook.
Several residents at the meeting said that the reverse 911 message that goes to residents in flood-prone areas to warn of flooding was not working.
"That's something we need to address," Birkner said. "Anyone who has an issue with the warning system not functioning properly needs to address our OEM coordinator. We need to know what's working and what's not working."
The borough also has an emergency notice system that residents can sign up for in which they can be warned of impending emergencies via e-mail, text message, landline or cell phone. Residents can sign up on the borough's website, the library and the borough clerk's office, Birkner said.
Although some residents argued that United Water was not doing enough to prevent the brook from flooding, Birkner said he believed that United Water has been cooperating with the borough better when it came to the management of the water.
Boswell said United Water slowly raises the spillgate in the dam several feet during major rain storms to retain the extra water and said that the step was essential.
"The amount that fits in the reservoir in that 5 foot span is enough to inundate all of Westwood," Boswell said.
United Water representatives did not return messages for comment.
Birkner stressed the importance of having all of the municipalities surrounding the brook involved in strategizing a "continuous maintenance plan" to lessen the impact of major storm events.
"I don't care what we do alone - nothing will happen," Birkner said. "If we take care of Westwood's waterways from the Emerson border to the Hillsdale border, it won't make any difference whatsoever."