Millburn Township Committee Discusses South Mountain Drainage Project

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Civil engineer Leo Coakley of Hatch Mott MacDonald delivers a presentation on possible remedies for flooding in the South Mountain area.
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MILLBURN, NJ -- Two of the five members of the Millburn Township Committee pledged Wednesday night to undertake a drainage project in the South Mountain area that will reduce the possibility of flooding.

The pledge came at a 2 1/2-hour meeting between Mayor Sandra Haimoff and Committee member James Suell with residents of the area, which experienced major flooding during Hurricane Irene last month. Haimoff and Suell are members of the subcommittee investigating causes and possible remedies for flooding that occurred in several areas of the township.

More than 100 residents jammed into Town Hall to relate their experiences and voice their concerns. At times the discussion grew heated, as homeowners expressed their frustration.

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Civil engineer Leo Coakley of Hatch Mott MacDonald gave a presentation in which he outlined a number of possible short, medium and long-range solutions. Medium and long-term solutions will require cooperation between various municipalities, counties and the state, but several short-term projects could be accomplished within the township, he noted.

Coakley recommended a project combining storm sewers improvements with a larger pumping station at Gilbert Place. Three locations in the South Mountain area would be selected for storm sewer improvements, and residents would be asked to grant easements to the township for the work.

The engineer also suggested the municipality address groundwater issues in the area. Previously, the Elizabethtown Water Company drilled and pumped a number of wells in the area, but that activity ceased. More recently, the company had been asked to reactivate their pumping. The wells are now owned by New Jersey American Water Company (NJWAC), but Coakley said he does not know whether the wells are still in operation.    

Suell said he had contacted NJAWC but not received an answer. Several residents urged municipal officials to keep trying.

In addition, Coakley suggested the sewer system be examined for possible improvements. Haimoff said a letter has been sent to the Joint Meeting, an area-wide agency responsible for that system.

Several residents contended that their flooding problems were related to an overload situation on the sewer system.

Other speakers voiced health concerns about sewage that had infiltrated their yards and the neighborhood, and others expressed concerns about mosquito infestations and potential exposure to West Nile virus.

Near the end of the session, some residents questioned when the remediation could be done.

Suell said he sees any project taking six months to a year. Specifications for the project would need to be drawn up and the project put out to bid before any construction could start, he added.

Haimoff explained that she and Suell are gathering information and will come up with a recommendation to take to the entire Committee. The governing body will then have to vote on the project or projects.

All decisions will be made in public, she added, so residents will know exactly when those take place.  

“What we can do within our own municipality we will do as quickly as we possibly can,” she pledged.  

Suell urged members of the community to supply photos and information about their experiences to hurricaneirene@millburntwp.org. The township’s website also contains information on how to access flood maps created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Among the medium-range projects Coakley suggested are regulating water flows of the West Branch of the Rahway River through South Mountain Reservation, clearing out debris and silt under the Morris Avenue Bridge on Route 82 in Union and desilting the river at I-78 in Springfield.

Longer range projects would be developing a comprehensive Rahway River basin plan on a regional basis, coordinating with Essex and Union counties and working with the Army’s Corps of Engineers.

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