Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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Weather Forecast

Township Committee Faces the Flooding Issue

Ellen Gilbert

After a lengthy presentation and discussion at its Monday evening meeting, Township Committee approved five “action steps” that will attempt to ameliorate the significant flooding problems that have recently occurred in the area of Harry’s Brook and its branches.

The measures include a professional services agreement to reanalyze stormwater management regulations; applying for FEMA (Flood Emergency Management Agency) funds to purchase flooded properties; relocating a sanitary sewer line at 59 Meadowbrook Drive; introducing an ordinance to approve $500,000 to replace an eroded culvert; and initiating the structural inspection of all Township culverts.

Despite this show of concern on the part of Township Committee, Kurt Kammerer, who with his wife, Julie Bakoulis and two daughters, rented 59 Meadowbrook Drive but was forced to leave after a foot-and-a-half of water accumulated there during the heavy rains on August 22, it may have been too little too late. “If I knew what you’ve known about the house, do you think I would have signed up to live there?” he asked Monday evening. Township engineer Bob Kiser acknowledged that this “is the second round of applications of FEMA funds” for the property, and that “yes, we did have information regarding past flooding and the losses associated with that property.” 

Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner wondered whether there is “any type of rental awareness requirement” that would enable the Township to forewarn potential renters of homes of the possibility of floods. Township Attorney Ed Schmierer agreed that “this is probably the most significantly flooded house in town, so we could say yes; we could let somebody know that this property was prone to flooding.” He went on to add, however, that “this is exceptional,” and in general, “people trying to sell houses would have a gripe with us” if the Township routinely informed potential buyers of the likelihood of floods. Mr. Goerner noted that “most renters don’t call the Township before they rent a property.” He wondered whether there was“some way to have the home owner disclose that information.”

In a presentation that introduced the discussion, Stormwater Management Consulting President Joe Skupien summarized the causes of floods; the particulars of this year’s August 22 flood; details about the two-and-one-half mile square area comprising Harry’s Brook watershed; a summary of Township flood protection and stormwater management efforts; and an overview of the 2005 Stormwater Management Ordinance and its implications. He noted that Princeton itself has no continuous rain gauge, but that based on reports from Hale Road resident May Papastephanou (“a serious gardener”) and surrounding municipalities, Princeton had received over 20 inches of rain this summer, more than three times the usual amount.

Earlier in the evening, Mayor Bernie Miller had accepted a plaque officially making Princeton a “National Weather Service StormReady Designation,” signifying it as only one of 28 sites in New Jersey that meets the requirements for emergency operations.

While Mr. Skupien’s presentation averred that several variables can account for flooding and that predicting it is not a precise science, Township Committeewomen Sue Nemeth suggested that the general sense that there has been a significant increase in the intensity of rainstorms in recent years be figured into reassessing the Stormwater Management Ordinance. Mr. Skupien also agreed to include reference to the best stormwater management practices in other municipalities; alternative residential features like gravel driveways in place of impervious blacktops; and encouraging the routine trimming of branches and clearing of dead trees that often fall during heavy rains, creating blockages that intensify flooding.

Asked by Mr. Goerner about differences in stormwater management measures between the Borough and the Township, Mr. Skupien noted that they are essentially the same except for one key provision; while the Borough asks that action be taken to create a safe place for water to go if a residence undergoes a 200 square foot increase in its impervious area, the Township’s threshold is based on a percentage increase. “Yours is the better approach,” he commented.

Mr. Kiser expressed concern about “more and more one-family homes being shoehorned into existing neighborhoods,” and wondered if it would be possible to regulate developers, instead of just asking them “to do the right thing,” about stormwater management, as is the current practice. Mr. Skupien responded by saying that more data “on what is out there now” is needed before “tightening up thresholds.”

“The devil’s in the details,” he added.

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