By Virginia DiBianca
I have never known of a U.S. town that has reached media attention as distant as Australia other than Wayne, NJ. While the town can be proud of many things, its notoriety is in the flooding that takes place during torrential rainstorms that cause the Passaic River and its tributaries to overflow into the homes of those on its banks. While the winter of 2011 produced record snowfalls followed by a quick thaw, followed by a series of sever rain storms, there are man-made factors that have influenced the flooding problem and, in recent years, made it worse.
The area of Wayne that consistently gets flooded is adjacent to Willowbrook Mall and includes a nearby neighborhood called Hoffman Grove and a street called Fayette Avenue. Many of these homes are visible from Willowbrook Boulevard in Willowbrook Mall. Others are just out of sight near commercial strips along Route 23. Severe flooding like this winter’s also spreads into the mall and closes sections of Routes 23 and 46 to traffic.
Originally, the homes, built more than 50 years ago, prior to the building of the mall, were used as part-time vacation homes for out-of-towners who wanted a touch of country living on the weekend. Somewhere along the way, the homes were sold as full time residences. As development took place, the areas where water would have laid in the soggy ground found its way towards these homes along the Pompton and Passaic Rivers. Additionally, in 2007 the Army Corp of Engineers built a floodgates in a dam along the Ramapo River to hold back flood waters that were flooding the town of Oakland. Consequently, Wayne along with neighboring towns has become inundate with water from the floodgates that surges down the Pompton River to the Passaic River.
In 2007 with $11 million in state and federal funding the township began to buy the homes affected by the flooding. As reported in July, 2010 in The Record Newspaper, 71 of the 100 homes have been destroyed. Last spring, when the waters of the river once again flooded these sections of Wayne, Governor Christie toured the affected areas stating that the buyout of homes along the river will continue. He defended state officials for allowing development to take place on flood prone land by claiming that local officials approved the plans first.
Last year, Governor Christie established the Passaic River Basin Flood Advisory Board with former Wayne mayor Scott Rumana as lead. The board is examining ways to solve the flooding problem or at least minimize the impact. Their options include:
1. Buyouts of flood-prone homes. The state already has $31 million reserved for such purposes.
2. Creation of new riverside wetlands.
3. Fine-tuning the Pompton Lake Dam floodgates to end episodes of downstream flooding.
4. Dredging and clearing of debris.
5. Streamlining state regulations on flood relief projects.
6. Improving effectiveness of emergency response, water flow readings and public information.
7. Studying the basin as a whole — its topography and historical river patterns — in concert with local and state planners and the Army Corps of Engineers to come up with long term solutions.
Wayne is a town with many enclaves of vibrant communities on ridges and hills that offer a good place to live. According to the U.S. Census, the average income for Wayne is $97,048 as compared to the United States average of $51,025. In September of 2010, NJ Monthly ranked Wayne’s two high school number 51 and 63 out of 322 New Jersey schools. The town boasts of several lake communities offering swimming, boating and recreational activities that promote healthy, family living. Beyond the presence of the flooding rivers, the town is considered an upper-middle class suburban oasis. Citizens of the town actively participate in making the town what it is. They deserve a solution to this never ending flooding that presents an unflattering view of Wayne to the rest of the world.
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