Feb. 19, 2012
Help is on the way…but when?
Downtown residents plagued by flooding are getting impatient
Read more: Hudson Reporter - Help is on the way…but when Downtown residents plagued
By E. Assta Wright
With spring just weeks away and the start of hurricane season to follow, residents in the low-lying communities of Paulus Hook and Van Vorst Park say they are still waiting for the city to deal with neighborhood flooding problems before heavy rains again damage their homes.
In recent public meetings, city officials have acknowledged that flooding has been a problem in these neighborhoods for more than six decades.
Residents’ pleas for help from the city got louder seven months ago after Hurricane Irene dropped between five to 10 inches of rain over the area and left up to 5 feet of flood water in the basements of several homes.
After lobbying from residents, the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) has promised to implement a short-term solution to the problem, while exploring a permanent fix. But residents question whether any flood mitigation measures will be in place for the upcoming spring rains and 2012 hurricane season, which begins June 1.
“It’s time to put the shovel in the ground,” said Nader Rezai, a member of the York Street Neighborhood Association, last week. “It’s time to stop the studying and determine a plan of action. We have talked long enough about this. As a temporary solution, the city has promised [to install pumps]. Those pumps were promised in December. But they still haven’t even purchased the pumps.”
Like many cities in the Northeast and Great Lakes region, stormwater in Jersey City drains into the same underground system of pipes as raw sewage. This is known as a “combined” sewer system.
In the event of major rainstorms, combined systems can become overwhelmed. Flooding can be exacerbated if sewage pipes are poorly maintained and clogged and if green spaces have been paved over due to new construction and development. (Environmentalists like Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan, based in Secaucus, point out that natural earth that has not been paved serves as a natural drainage system for floodwaters.)
According to a September 2011 consent decree between the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the MUA, the federal government alleged that Jersey City “has violated the Clean Water Act and its New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit for Combined Sewer Systems in a number of ways, including but not limited to, causing dry weather overflows, failing to properly operate and maintain its combined sewer system…and allowing the discharge of untreated sewage from the collection system onto public and private property.”
The EPA had threatened to sue the MUA for failure to comply with the federal Clean Water Act and its state-issued permit for its combined sewer system. However, as a result of the consent decree, the two parties avoided litigation and the MUA has agreed to take steps to be in compliance with the requirements of its combined sewer system permit and the Clean Water Act.
The deadline for the corrective measures is 2021.
The city was also required to pay a civil penalty of $375,000.
“I think we’re on the road to seeing a short-term, a medium-term, and a long-term solution to the problem.” – William Tucker
A possible long-term fix?
But the consent decree does not specifically address some of the problems faced by residents in the Van Vorst and Paulus Hook areas.
The Van Vorst neighborhood is a low-lying area, parts of which are actually below sea level, cut off from sewer lines at the intersection of Grove Street and Grand Street.
Last month the MUA agreed to commission the environmental engineering firm of Malcolm Pirnie Inc. to identify some possible long-term solutions to flooding in the neighborhood. Several options will likely be considered.
One solution may be to build a pumping station downtown that would draw water away from the area. The water would be treated before being pumped into the Hudson River.
A similar pumping station was recently installed in the neighboring city of Hoboken, where residents on the city’s western edge have experienced flooding for decades.
But pumping stations aren’t cheap. Hoboken’s pumping station cost approximately $18 million to build, about $5 million of which was covered by money from the federal government. The city has spent millions more researching its flooding problems and developing solutions to the problem.
The Town of Secaucus spent $4.2 million for a pumping station that went on line in 2008, one of several pumping stations in the town. To pay for the station, Secaucus borrowed money from the state’s Environmental Trust Fund.
Not only are pumping stations expensive, but they take years to plan. The pumping stations in Hoboken and Secaucus were years in the making.
What about now?
“I think we’re on the road to seeing a short-term, a medium-term, and a long-term solution to the problem,” said downtown property owner William Tucker, who has attended several recent MUA meetings.
For the short-term, the MUA has agreed to rent several water pumps. These temporary pumps will be used in flood-prone areas throughout the entire city and will be deployed whenever heavy rains are predicted. The MUA has also agreed to place one of these pumps at the Essex Reservoir on a semi-permanent basis. This pump, with pipes 12 inches in diameter, should alleviate flooding downtown on Marin Boulevard and York, Bright, Grand, and Grove streets.
The city is also seeking permission from the federal EPA and state DEP to bypass environmental laws whenever the downtown pump needs to dump untreated flood water into the Hudson River to avoid flooding. This permission has yet to be granted.
“MUA Executive Director Dan Becht informed [Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s] office that his staff met [recently] with consulting engineers on this matter,” said city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill. “The agency is now waiting for DEP approval, and hope to have the pumps in place by April. This is on a very fast track, and the MUA has reached out to the DEP multiple times and will continue to do so to expedite this matter.”
“Obviously, we want to expedite these things to happen before the rainy season begins in March and April,” said Tucker. “Whether they can happen, well, that’s what we’re waiting to see. At this point, I don’t think there’s any question that these things are going ahead; it’s a question of the timing.”
Comment at www.hudsonreporter.com. E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org
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