CEDAR GROVE, NJ - The Cedar Grove Township Council voted 4-1 in favor of exiting the Passaic Valley Regional Flood Board during its Nov. 6 meeting. A public hearing was held prior to the council vote.

Mayor Peter Tanella stated he felt the township received no benefit by staying on the flood board, despite recommendations to stay on by members of the Cedar Grove Environmental Commission and the council's own flood board liaison, Harry Kumburis. Council members previously tabled the issue at the Oct. 16 meeting.

During the public hearing, Robert Maxwell, a member of the commission, stated he hadn't heard a valid reason as to why the township wouldn't want to continue to stay on the flood board. Local resident Paul Burns said he had been living on the Peckman River since the 80s and seen his share of issues.

Sign Up for E-News

"I've been through a lot of storms and I've seen the river build up to 15 feet high. In the past 10 years I've seen the embankment being pushed," said Burns. "We've had the brook cleaned up about three years and I think it opened up the gates." 

He also added he felt the rising water levels have reached all time highs recently.

"The Peckman River is a raging river and when there's a storm, it's outrageous," he added. "Current levels are at the fence. How are you going to replenish that? I don't understand why there's even a talk. I'm understanding that three towns are better than two, because the state would listen to three before they would listen to two. So my hope is that we stay."

Another issue Burns highlighted was that the despite a shift in emphasis on the Passaic River, the Peckman should still remain part the focus.

"We're not part of the Passaic River and I understand, and that's a big issue," he noted. "But coming down to what we have with the Peckman River, starting with Verona, as it works down it's pulling garbage down."

Tanella replied that the Peckman River gets dredged twice a year in Cedar Grove.

"Not behind my house," Burns replied. "I'm doing it. Regardless, I think we should stay on the board."

Tanella said during the meeting he felt staying on would not serve any purpose for the township.

"This is my opinion, I think we should withdraw from it. But that doesn't mean we're abandoning the Peckman River. That's completely incorrect," Tanella said, adding that the five member council have their own opinions and can vote their own way.

Tanella also said that multiple towns being part of a board to better the chances for receiving funding was only partially correct. He added he spoke with Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark earlier in the day, along with Little Falls Mayor James Damiano, specifically on this issue and emphasized that neither of the mayors had any issue with the Cedar Grove's decision to either stay on or potentially withdraw.

"He (Kazmark) even said it's his thought the flood board might be better suited joining forces with another Passaic County community that's actually impacted by the Passaic River because we're not impacted by the Passaic River," Tanella said, adding that he's been in talks with both mayors since the summer about the future of Cedar Grove's future involvement with the flood board.

Cedar Grove was asked to join the flood board by Little Falls and Woodland Park in 2001, he added.  

"I think right now it doesn't make sense for us to stay and spend time and resources on a commission that our community doesn't receive benefit from. Again, that's my opinion," he said. "We do not have a flooding issue dealing with the Peckman River. Did Little Falls and Woodland Park receive money? Yes, because they have flooding issues."

Kumburis said it doesn't cost the township a penny to be on the flood board, and added that the council never reached out to him as council liaison to the flood board.

"Not one person reached out to me on the council to discuss the knowledge that I received in the last two years pertaining to the flood board," he said, adding that the Peckman River is a flash flood river. 

"It could be months or years before something happens. But it will happen," he added. "We just received new gauges and it was vitally important to have that gauge installed on Ozone Avenue where all the OEMs would be working together on this."

Kumburis also added that Cedar Grove did not receive the grant money, as previously stated by Tanella, because Cedar Grove was not together with the other town on the grant application. He further stated that former Mayor Bob O' Toole opted to file for the grant separately.

"We would've had more grant money right now and the purchase that money was to purchase a track hoe, so they can go in the river and move the shoals around without disturbing the soil," he stated. "Any soil in the Peckman River cannot be removed due to contamination."

He added that the other two towns have offered for Cedar Grove to use the track hoe, despite not being a beneficiary of the grant. He further stated that the possibly of erecting flood walls along the river, part of the locally preferred plan, should still require decision-making involvement from Cedar Grove even though it would mostly involve Little Falls. He also added that Verona expressed interest in becoming part of the flood board, as well as West Orange.

"But again, they are shifting their focus on to the Passaic River but they have not done anything for the Peckman River," he noted. "Most of the debris that flows down comes from Verona and Cedar Grove."

"A resident died in Little Falls, and we don't know what's going to happen in the future," he added. "I think it's a disgrace. We have residents in the flood plain and they pay for flood insurance. We should be good neighbors and also take care of our own residents."