Flood Board Awaiting River Gauge Installations After Receiving Permits

Pictured is Jerry Oehm, flood board chairman, and Thomas Minnella, flood board vice chairman, discussing state and county permits allowing long-awaited river gauges to be installed. Credits: Tina Pappas

LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Members of the Passaic Valley Regional Flood Control Board, representing Woodland Park, Little Falls and Cedar Grove, have received state and county permits for the installation of long awaited river gauges.

The flood board reported at its recent meeting held at the Little Falls municipal building on April 13, that they expect to have a confirmed date in early May as to the time frame for the installations.

Jerry Oehm, flood board chairman, gave an update at the meeting for the gauges. He referred to a meeting he attended with a representative from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Little Falls last week, along with Yogi Sookhu, president and CEO of Gotham Analytics, the company that produces the river gauges.  

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The aim was to allow the USGS to view what Gotham Analytics was providing to the flood board with regard to the gauges. Charles Cuccia, Little Falls business administrator, was also present during that meeting, and provided a status update with the river gauge permits.

"We're understanding that all the permits are in and we're looking for a start date," said Oehm. "The gauges are ready. Hopefully by early May, we'll have a firm installation date."

The request for the gauges originated from the flood board members for county freeholders, through the Office of Emergency Management to fund or partially fund the purchase, installation and maintenance of three gauges, which would be placed at the Francisco Avenue bridge, Main Street bridge and Route 46 bridge. A resolution was also passed at a prior council meeting in Little Falls for the township to enter a shared services agreement with the county and Woodland Park in order to monitor flooding at the Peckman River.

Local officials have praised the high-tech warning system of the gauges in providing advance notice to residents prior to a flash flood event. The goal is to move residents out of harm's way.

Nick Agnoli, prior flood board chairman, who is now a technical advisor to the flood board, had made cost related comparisons, estimating that a gauge serviced by Gotham Analytics would be $36,000 for five years, with an additional fee of $3,600 for installation, totaling $39,600. Under the USGS, the cost would have been $20,000 for each gauge, and $60,000 per year for a five-year service, totaling $300,000.

A river gauge to be located at the Ozone Avenue bridge in Cedar Grove is also in the works. The gauge would fall under Essex County's jurisdiction.

Army Corps of Engineers Feasibility Study Update

Dorothy O'Haire, flood board secretary, reported that Robert Greco, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), had updated her on the Peckman River feasbility study, which is currently being reviewed by the ACOE in order to apply for additional funding to continue the final stages of the feasibility study for the locally preferred plan (9B). The plan calls for a 100-year flood protection plan, and entails flood wall installation, predominantly in Little Falls.

"Before it can go to design stage the study needs to be completed and then they can schedule a public hearing at a later date," said O'Haire. We are awaiting a decision from them in order to move forward with the feasibility study."

O'Haire said she will continue to communicate with the flood board on the current status of the study. A planned visit to Bound Brook by local officials is also in the works to view flood-proned areas and their progress to alleviate flooding.

"Mr. Greco added that the corps will be taking the mayors of Little Falls and Woodland Park on a tour of the completed portions of the Green Brook Flood Control Project," O'Haire explained.

Some members of the flood board previously took a tour of the areas located in Bound Brook in May of 2015. The NJDEP and the crops are taking part in the Green Brook Flood Control Project, which is supported by 13 flood impacted communities in Somerset County and the Green Brook Flood Control Commission. Several flood members expressed interest in taking another tour. 

Grant Status for Track Hoe Purchase

An update was also given by O'Haire on the grant status for the purchase of a track hoe in order to continue work on the Peckman River and stream clean-out. The flood board previously reported that the clean-out was 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.

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

Tom Minnella, flood board vice chairman, previously said that both George Galbraith, Department of Public Works superintendent of Woodland Park, and Phil Simone,Department of Public Works superintendent of Little Falls, have expressed that they favor purchasing a track hoe. He also previously told fellow board members that Nordan Murphy, of the Aliamo 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.

O'Haire reported that John Ritchey of NJDEP's Bureau of Dam and Flood Control, who is also the grant project manager for the track hoe's purchase, attempted to reach the state attorney general's office to obtain permission.

"Mr. Ritchey is out of town and currently there is no resolution to purchase that track hoe but they're still working towards getting it through the state attorney general's office in order to get permission to use the grant money that we already received to purchase the machine," explained O'Haire. "The grant allows us to rent one but we would only be able to do half the work. If we purchase one, then we can do the whole job and keep it for maintenance."

The track hoe would be stored inside a garage at the DPW in Little Falls.

"When the corps project is completed, the municipalities would continue the maintenance and having the machine would be a great asset for regular clean-outs," she added.

Minnella previously stated that having a track hoe on hand would mean the DPWs could remove the shoals regularly for years to come and whenever necessary. He explained that the flood board does 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.


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