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Mayors Council Asks Legislators For Funding To Advance Flood Relief

The Mayors Council is asking the Legislature to build funding into this year's state budget to help move forward with a flood control project.

The mayors representing communities in the Rahway River Watershed met with area legislators at Union County College last week to seek support for the funding in the next state budget to begin a project that could alleviate flooding in Cranford, Rahway, Springfield, Union and Millburn.

The proposed South Mountain stormwater project involves the construction of a dry detention basin in the South Mountain Reservation that is expected to significantly reduce water elevations during peak storm conditions in several towns.

Several local engineers including Cranford Township Engineer Richard Marsden joined Cranford Mayor David Robinson, Commissioner Ed O'Malley, former Cranford Mayor Daniel Aschenbach, Rahway Mayor Rick Proctor and Millburn Mayor Sandra Haimoff as they attempted to explain to Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and representatives from Congressman Leonard Lance's office how the proposed plan will alleviate flooding.

Sitting in a conference room at UCC's Cranford campus, the officials watched a brief video that depicted the graphic and disurbing imaged of flooded streets and homes, rescue efforts and that were removed in the wake of Hurricane Irene last August. The video was produced by the in cooperation with Cranford Patch, Union TV 34, Cranford TV 35 and Union County College production studios. The video, titled "Flood Control Now" is also being provided to each of the area legislators for their viewing.

The mayors representing the Mayor's Council on Rahway River Watershed Flood Control explained that there was more than $75 million of flood damage caused by . Aschenbach and engineering consultant Leo Coakley of Hatch, Mott, MacDonald said the detention project is a "positive response to flood mitigation." The detention project was evaluated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who have done hydrology work to estimate the potential water elevation reductions.

Following the video, a roundtable discussion took place during which Cryan ask for additional details about the proposed detention basin project. His goal was to get an exact dollar amount from the mayors that he could present to the Legislature.

"We need a number that's real," Cryan said.

Coakley explained that the project would be the best and easiest option for the towns to pursue at this time. The funding, if approved, would pay for various aspects of the project include a further study to advance the proposal.

"I feel this is the most cost-effective because it doesn't deal with homeowners or relocation," Coakley said, adding that the project could also keep Millburn Avenue from "turning into a river" following a heavy rain storm.

Haimoff pointed out that the project would be "extremely beneficial" to Millburn and other communities downstream. It has earned the support of Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, provided there are no negative effcts on Essex County property.

"Every engineer sitting here has told you that this is absolutely going to work," Haimoff told Cryan and Munoz.

According to Aschenbach, the Army Corps is already planning on doing a study to explore flood control options. However, if the towns along the Rahway River wait for the results of their study, it could be several years before the flood-prone towns see any relief.

"If we don't do anything now, we're just going to be waiting on the Army Corps," Aschenbach said.

Breaking the South Mountain storage basin project off from the Army Corps study would save a significant amount of time, Aschenbach added.

Robinson reminded the legislators in attendance about the millions of dollars in damages and the "human toll" that Hurrican Irene caused.

"We can't go through another hurricane season, waiting a decade," Robinson said.

When asked by Cryan and Munoz which town the funds would actually be awarded to, Aschenbah suggested that an interlocal agreement between Cranford and Millburn would be a possible option.

"If we don't do something now and allocate some money now to solve this problem, the project is going to be more costly," Haimoff said.

Cryan said that once the Mayors Council and engineers provide him with an actual dollar amount to request, he could possibly work that number into a Department of Environmental Protection line item within the state budget.

"It's all about transparency and accountability. It's taxpayers' money," Assemblywoman Munoz said.

Mayors and their community engineers will be meeting June 13 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in their headquarters to continue to refine the analysis, Aschenbach said. The Mayors Council on Rahway River Watershed Flood Control will also be holding a special public hearing in Millburn on June 27 to get input from the various key environmental organizations.

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