LITTLE FALLS/WOODLAND PARK, NJ - Members of the Passaic Valley Regional Flood Control Board, representing Woodland Park, Little Falls and Cedar Grove, have seen yet another one of their efforts come to fruition.

According to Little Falls Mayor James Damiano, the flood board has acquired a new excavator, which was approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

"The cost was originally $150,000 for the Peckman River clean up project to be awarded to contractors," Damiano said at Monday night's Township Council meeting. "The regional flood board thought it would be in the best interests and agreed between the three municipalities that the grant would be better spent in getting an excavator that would be utilized to clean up the river ourselves."

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Damiano added that the grant would be modified from paying contractors and would now go towards paying for machinery. Little Falls and Woodland Park municipalities would split cleaning the river with the excavator, as well as maintain the machinery, through a shared services agreement.

"Just today, those funds were approved for the purchase of an excavator," he explained during the meeting. "We received word from the DEP after we requested the modification so we will be moving forward with the grant project."

The idea of the flood board and municipalities using whatever funds are available from the grant to purchase an excavator was discussed for some time, given the timeliness of the clean out work to meet its deadlines, which is tied into retaining the grant money.

The flood board previously reported that the clean out was originally scheduled to be done by April 2017, which would meet the May 1, 2017 deadline, stipulated on the NJDEP's work period extension. The grant was originally set to expire by March 1, 2016. Some desnagging work began in areas of the Peckman River this past January.

George Galbriath, Department of Public Works superintendent of Woodland Park, and Phil Simone, Department of Public Works superintendent of Little Falls, expressed to flood board members that they were in favor of the purchase an excavator. According to the flood board, Nordan Murphy, of the Alaimo Group, borough engineer for Woodland Park, said the original amount of the grant money for the clean out project of $150,000 was not sufficient to clear the shoals in the Peckman River, whether they are in Little Falls or Woodland Park, and the intention was to do both towns. Flood board members originally applied for $300,000 in grant funds but only half that amount was received.

Dorothy O'Haire, flood board secretary, said that the municipalities would continue its maintenance and having the machine would be a great asset for regular clean outs once the corps project is completed.

Tom Minnella, former flood board chairman, added that having an excavator on hand would mean the DPWs could remove the shoals regularly for years to come whenever necessary. He explained that the flood board did not have the authority to use issued grant funds to purchase a piece of equipment and that the borough and council have to make the purchase.

Damiano noted that the grant modification still needed final approval from the attorney general's office but that everyone was hopeful.

 "A special thank you is well deserved by the regional flood board for making this come to fruition," he said.

Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark also commented on the purchase of the excavator.

"We're obviously very pleased that the DEP was able to get approval to modify the grant and allow for purchase of this equipment," Kazmark said. "Had we gone through the process of doing a one time clean up, it would have been a very temporary solution, whereas having this piece of equipment that can be shared between the municipalities makes more sense. When there is a need to do clean up along the river banks we'll have the equipment ready to go."

Kazmark also commended the regional flood board.

"The bottom line is that if it wasn't for the work of this regional board this grant would never have come to fruition with the regard to the purchase of the equipment to clear the river," Kazmark added. "Just as important was the pressure that was placed on the Army Corps of Engineers to reinstate the long-term flood mitigation project along the Peckman River, which would be probably have still been suspended."

He also said the borough will continue to work close with the flood board as well as the other two towns and looks forward to joining their upcoming meeting in September, along with Damiano.

"We are working on getting a date together to meet with them in order to set the expectation as the new flood board formalizes," he noted. "From there we're expecting they'll continue the work that they've been doing for flood mitigation efforts along the Peckman River. They serve a key role we just want to make sure that the board and the governing bodies in the three towns are working collaboratively and communicating on a regular basis." 

Flood board members also received long awaited flood river gauges that are currently being installed this year. The request for the gauges originated from the flood board to Passaic County Freeholders, through the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), in order to fund or partially fund the purchase, installation and maintenance of three gauges. The new gauges were touted as revolutionary by town officials and flood board members alike because they give information in real time.