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Vol. LXIII, No. 35
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
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Flooding Causes Doubts About Ordinance

Ellen Gilbert

“Flooding along the Harry’s Brook basin is about life-threatening conditions that come knocking on our backdoors,” wrote Random Road resident Olivia Applegate in an email to Flood Control and Water Management Committee Chair Richard Olsson about area flooding during a heavy rainstorm on August 22. “It is about destruction of our private property. It is about the mental fatigue so many of us suffer as we witness the flooding water rising to new levels. It is about cleaning the incredible mess and destruction left behind by floods when unwanted water pours into our garages and basements.”

In a previous letter, addressed to Mr. Olsson, Township Engineer Robert Kiser, and Stormwater Management Consultant Joe Skupien, among others, Ms. Applegate defined what she sees as the heart of the matter: the question of the efficacy of the four-year old Flood Prevention Ordinance.

“The redevelopment along the Harry’s Brook watershed is creating a drastic increase of impervious surface that was not anticipated,” wrote Ms. Applegate. “A contributing factor to the increase of runoff is caused by the changes that are being made to the natural topography of the area. Developers aware of the high water table are building houses on elevated mounts and are bringing large loads of top soil to increase the height of the property, and then they are sloping the land toward the street.”

During the past 18 months on Random Road alone, six new six-and seven-thousand-foot homes have replaced the 17-hundred square foot houses built there in the 1950s. “If these houses had been part of a new subdivision, the Township would have required a large retention basin to contain rainwater runoff,” said Ms. Applegate. “But as single family homes, these houses are allowed to contribute their runoff directly into the stream at any time.”

Responding to Ms. Applegate’s first letter, Mr. Olsson said that “blaming this flash flood event on a failed Flood Mitigation Plan doesn’t add up.” Instead, he attributed the flooding that day to a “very wet spring and summer” that had already saturated the ground, “adding to the intensity of runoff. One would have to construct a retention basin the size of the Harry’s Brook drainage basin to catch this amount of water. Hardly realistic. Fortunately, this type of flooding is short-lived, but unfortunately, where homeowners whose properties abut or extend onto the Harry’s Brook flood plain, drainage is slower because flood plains are actually giant retention basins and help control flooding (along with ecological value).”

“The flooding along Littlebrook Road extended more than 150 feet in width, although two years ago the Township did road work to improve drainage plus added new storm drainage,” said Ms. Applegate. “The flooding along Roper Road extended some 75 feet in width. On both roads one could not drive through due to high water, even with an SUV. For awhile, there was water coming out of the storm drainage around this area, since the floods had reached the street — the so-called 500-year flood.”

“At this point we’re looking at options and haven’t made any decisions,” said Mr. Kiser when asked about revisiting the Flood Prevention Ordinance and addressing the newer issues raised by Ms. Applegate. “We’re just gathering information; I don’t have anything more than that.”

Asked the same question, Mr. Skupien was similarly reserved, saying that he hadn’t “had a chance to talk to anybody in the Township” and “would not like to comment right now. I certainly have been involved in the ordinance, but I haven’t talked with anyone about the recent flooding.”

Township Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner was more expansive. “In circumstances such as this it’s imperative that we explore a myriad of options,” he said. “We should look into having Joe Skupien look into our flood control ordinance and look into changing it. Our ordinance is fairly strong as it stands, but it’s important for the public to be engaged.”

Mr. Goerner noted that “strengthening our education initiative” was an important part of addressing the problem, suggesting that a “work session,” including members of both the Flood Control and Environmental Commissions, take place “in the very near future.”

Noting that the ordinance was “fairly new” and that revising it “may not be the best policy,” Mr. Goerner said that looking elsewhere for “best practices” in flood control might be a good alternative.

Even when it was new however, the ordinance was found wanting, according to Ms. Applegate. “From day one it was weak,” she commented. “Both Bob Kiser and Joe Skupien agreed that it wasn’t ideal. One of the reasons I have written to everyone is that when this ordinance was passed, they were just addressing flooding by the Brook. Saturday’s flood is the best and only reason why Township Committee needs to update the Flood Prevention Ordinance. It is time for all new single house constructions to manage rainwater runoff on-site, just as it has been required for commercial and multiple house developments for the last 30 years.”

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