Friday, February 25, 2011

Preventing Damage, Creating Assurance

By Jessica Vasquez

In 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers built floodgates at the Pompton Lake Dam on the Ramapo River in order to ease flooding into Oakland upstream. Such a reversal of the water flow is due to water backing up from the dam when there is an overabundance of rain or snow. With this winter’s record breaking snowfalls, the floodgates have become a concern once again with residents near the Ramapo River, which is part of the Passaic River Basin.

After floods in the region caused more than $33million in damages in March 2010, Governor Christie heard these citizens and assigned a special flood advisory commission to plan short- and long-term solutions to flood waters. The purpose of the Passaic River Basin Flood Advisory Commission is to prevent damage to about 20,000 homes and businesses; it does not aim to prevent flooding altogether. Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, has said “the purpose of the plan is to minimize the impact (of flooding).” It is crucial that citizens recognize that flooding cannot be stopped completely. A panel of this commission met in early February to collect ideas on easing the problem.

The commission agreed that building in flood zones should be discouraged and developers educated about other places there are to build homes and businesses. They also felt that natural flood areas must be preserved and current homes in the path of destruction must be elevated. This has recently become a goal of United States Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat of Paterson, NJ. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana, a Republican of Wayne, NJ, said he believes structural work must begin immediately. This includes the building of levies and floodwalls to protect properties that are inside or border the flood zones.

Another option that was agreed upon by a majority of the panel is buy-outs. Ella Filippone, an advocate of Passaic River Coalition, supports buying flood prone buildings because this would “get people out of harm’s way... permanently.” Although this is an expensive route, she argues that it is the best approach for the people who occupy such buildings whether for residence or work.

There is speculation that the panel’s report that will become just another in a series of reports about flooding in New Jersey. Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club Director, is skeptical about the report turning into productive action in favor of the people and the river. Yet, Mayor Michael DeFrancisci of Little Falls believes that the report will jump start several short-term projects that are manageable. The report prompts local, state, and federal actions that will have the greatest impact on the Passaic River Basin and the Ramapo River floodgates situation.

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