Residents Plead For Long-Term Flood Help
Council says it's doing what it can but there's a long list of those who need help, state restrictions make it challenging
When it rains, it pours. And when it pours in flood-prone Ridgewood, residents suffer. Nearly ten residents presented the council with a laundry list of problems, problems they said are not specifically related to Irene's wrath. No, they're long term and the village has been aware for years, residents said.
You can dig a ditch, but can you clear it?
Pam Welch, of Marshall Street, was one of the most recognized people in Ridgewood for about a week. And she didn't plan on it either. Welch and her family were one of about 30 residents that had to be evacuated by the fire department as high waters from the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook rushed past Veterans Field and dumped four feet of water in basements on the quiet street.
Representing Marshall Street, Warren Place, North Irving and Franklin Avenue, Welch said a ditch in the right of way (running between N. Irving and East Ridgewood Avenue, known as 'The Rat Hole') needs to be cleared, which the village under a previous administration promised but never did after putting pavers down.
Somewhat luckily for those residents, Village Manager Ken Gabbert said he believed that particular issue could be handled without DEP involvement.
But even that isn't very simple, it turns out.
The property containing the ditch is not village owned, Gabbert confirmed when questioned later by Mayor Keith Killion.
Still, Killion wondered if the village could force the property owner–identified in tax records as "North Irving St Corporation and C Fitzgerald,"–to clear the ditch.
"If other residents are being affected by the ditch not being cleaned up, maybe we ought to look at cleaning it and charging it back to the homeowners," Killion said, openly questioning if it was legally allowed.
This didn't start with Irene
"Irene put the exclamation mark on everything, but we've been dealing with this now for a couple of years," Burnside Place resident Paul Smith said to the council Wednesday night. Smith reported that two river bends near Burnside and E. Glen act as a depository for rocks, debris and other materials. The end result? Three inches of rain or more sends water through the basements near the bend, he and other neighbors said.
Smith called on local officials to help develop a solution and questioned why state and county legislators "were reluctant" to take on the DEP to resolve the issues. Another resident, Judith Kraft, also of Burnside Place, suggested a periodic maintenance program be enacted and ecological studies be done. She reported having her property flooded four times this year, a radical departure from when dredging was done in the past.
But with the DEP restricting what the village can do in dredging and clearing of any waterways, in many ways its hands are tied, officials said. Permission was given to clear the brook one day before Irene, Killion said, which left little time to make a big impact.
What the village can do is lobby state representatives and the state to do something, according to the mayor. "If we get five or six mayors experiencing this [dredging issues with the brook] and we get letters from residents, we may be able to move the action along."
For now, while the village is aware of the issues, it's just one of over 20 Irene-related issues it's still parsing through.
It's a stinky fact of life for some residents–literally.
Resident Tom Krenn, of Whithill Road is was one of many village residents whose toilet backed up with raw sewage, a result of the water pollution facility pumps ceasing during Irene. "The only thing that wasn't backed up was my basement, along with several other people," he said. "I can't tell you how helpless we felt. We didn't know what to do. Water is one thing, raw sewage is another."
Worse for taxpayers is the damage down to sewage systems in the Saddle River, according to Gabbert. "That was a cause of a great amount of water leading into the sewer system because the sewer line had completely washed out," he said.
The cost of a sewage bypass is $23,000 a month, Gabbert said. Costs to rebuild the line are expected to reach six figures, and getting DEP approval in a watershed will not be easy either.
Turf fields to blame?
Some who addressed the council said they believe the school board's turfing of Stadium and Stevens Field is at least partially to blame.
They asked, as they formally did at Monday night at the Board of Education public meeting, that the school board agree to a permeability test to assess if the fields are to blame. Killion expressed that he'd prefer the school board to agree, if nothing else than to ease the concerns of residents.
Two residents lamented the loss of the youth center and senior center at Village Hall. Unfortunately, the village has to "prioritize" how it checks off the various issues, Killion said. It has yet to formulate a plan as to what it will do with damaged Village Hall but will "not forget our seniors or our youth."
Ultimately, said the mayor, not one thing could be pinpointed as a concrete reason for the sudden uptick in flood issues.
It's been suggested there are too many impervious surfaces due to development, overwhelmed storm drains and pipes, sewage plant issues, debris in the brook and ironically, retaining walls set up to aid in the flow of flood water.
"It seems to be this whole area it's not just one thing causing it, there's a few different things and we have to look at it . . . I'm sorry to keep saying we'll do the best we can," Killion said.
"But that's the only thing I can promise you. We hear you."