Township Committee Weighs Alternatives for Rahway River Flood Control

Gail Barry, left, coordinator of the Millburn Municipal Alliance Committee, receives congratulations from Townshp Committee member Ian Mount for a proclamation designating April as Alcohol Awareness Month and urging residents to support the alliance's fifth Annual Family Meal Week. Looking on are committee member Ted Bourke, left, and Towship AdministatorTim Gordon. Credits: Patricia Harris

MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Township Committee decided Tuesday night to do some further research before endorsing any particular plan for flood control in the Rahway River basin.

The governing body was considering a resolution from the township’s Environmental Commission supporting a proposal to make channel improvements to the river and modify the Orange Reservoir outlet in the South Mountain Reservation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has studied 10 alternatives for mitigating the risk of flooding and presented three alternatives offering a positive cost-benefit ratio.

“More homework needs to be done,” Mayor Robert Tillotson said following a discussion in which committee member Ted Bourke suggested the municipality solicit input from Hatch Mott MacDonald, the engineering firm hired to mitigate the risk of flooding in the South Mountain area.

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Tillotson indicated the committee might be able to pass the resolution at its next meeting. He said he will be attending a meeting of the Mayors Council for Rahway River Watershed Flood Control this week.

Municipalities participating in the council will probably be asked to contribute funds for further studies of the alternatives, he said, adding he would not like to see them throw away money exploring alternatives that ultimately would not be viable.

“No. 4 is by far the best alternative,” committee member Sandy Haimoff said, referring to the channel improvements and modification of the reservoir outlet.

She cited the history of the mayors council, formed two years ago to work together on the flooding problem, and noted the group met with Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and suggested using the reservoir just south of Northfield Avenue. At that time, he said, “Don’t touch my reservoir” and instead suggested using other bodies of water downstream, according to Haimoff.

“I’m happy to see he’s changed his mind,” she added. 

The committee heard from Fred Profeta, a former mayor of Maplewood and an organizer of Save Our Reservation, a grassroots group opposed to creating a regional detention basin in the South Mountain Reservation, which would require building a dam.

“Option 4 has the best numbers by far,” he noted. Referring to the detention basin alternative, he said, “My concern is the towns that are suffering… Part of what’s at stake is speed.”

If the Corps pursues the concept of a detention basin, only to find it would cause massive environmental damage, valuable time in controlling flooding would be lost, Profeta indicated.

Township resident Lucinda Mercer of Glen Avenue also expressed her opinion. “I urge the committee to stand firm (and support the reservoir), away from the dam.”

In other business, Tillotson announced the township has received a $150,000 grant from Essex County for historical preservation. The township purchased a home on White Oak Ridge Road last year, and members of the Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society plan to turn it into a museum.

The committee also introduced four ordinances, which will have public hearings on May 20. The first authorizes the acquisition of a conservation easement and deed restriction from Far Brook School, while the second establishes new fees for obtaining public records and copies of documents.

The third ordinance limits parking on Walnut Avenue and allows 2 hour parking on the east side of the street from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The fourth ordinance sets standards for house numbering, in an effort to make it easier for first responders to find houses when called. 

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