With close to $350,000 in grant money to repair the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook nearly secured, the village could begin substantial work this summer to mitigate flooding many residents say has worsened considerably in the last decade.
At last Wednesday's village council meeting, Village Manager Ken Gabbert said $340,000 in federal grants is expected to be in the village's hands, 80 percent of what was requested.
The village may also not be able to get to work until June, as it must wait for trout stocking season to end, Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser said at the Jan. 25 council meeting. There could be other conditions on animal habitats as well, he added.
Armed with hand tools, the village in January started clearing some of the sandbars that populate its flood-happy brook. The work, however, is far too big for shovels, as the sandbars have been crunching together for about twelve years.
An excavator and other heavy equipment is necessary to clear up erosion damage and remove large formations of rock and debris from Ho-Ho-Kus to Glen Rock, officials have said.
The damage, which has affected municipalities throughout the state, is due to a number of factors, Rutishauser has said.
"If we only had low flow, minimal rain events there would not be much change," Rutishauser, pointing to the sandbars, which often form around bends. "But as we have heavier rain events, more material moves around, shifts around the stream bed."
Though affected residents appeared at the Jan. 25 council meeting to report they're pleased progress is finally coming, it's work that may be needed in perpetuity and one that will require massive coordination efforts between municipalities and state and federal agencies.
Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh asked if there were long-term plan in place as the work proposed does not include widening the brook, dredging or changing the water flow direction.
"If we're going to have another sandbar after the next storm, we're defeating the purpose of doing all the work to begin with," she said.
"What you say is correct," Rutishauser replied. "The only way we could mitigate or eliminate the material is that the river bottle literally has to be concrete. And that's not going to happen."
Sand bars will reappear, he said. It's just a question of when.
Walsh qualified the plan to remove sandbars as a "Band-Aid."
"When you see just one item, how is this going to play into the big picture if...it's just going to solve one problem but create another problem or if we could do three different things?," she asked. "I guess what we need to see and what the residents need to see is what's the long-term plan?"
Rutishauser said the work is more substantial than Walsh characterized but said the monumental task of repairing exacerbating conditions it's a reality Ridgewood will have to face as development continues.
"It's how our societies are growing. We're developing. More development, more impervious surfaces being created in the same watershed," he said. "All that creates additional runoff. Going forward in the next 100 years, I would anticipate more flood events of higher levels than in the previous 100 years because of the level of development our society are doing.
"Unless every community in the watershed ceases development, removes impervious surfaces, it's not going to improve," he said.
[Editor's note: Check out a good piece on flood issues penned by Joseph Cramer of The Ridgewood News here.]