Flooding Still Concern Year After Irene
Westwood and Hillsdale residents whose homes flooded during Hurricane Irene are still worried about flooding one year after the storm hit.
One year ago, Hurricane Irene blew through the Pascack Valley and caused some of the worst flooding in local history, damaging hundreds of homes and temporarily displacing some families.
Local governments spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair roads and clean up public areas. Residents reported depths ranging from a few inches to several feet of water in their homes, as did some business owners. Flooding was particularly bad in the area around Harding Avenue in Westwood and Beechwood Drive in Hillsdale, where several homeowners are now participating in government buyout programs.
Hundreds of homes in Westwood reported flooding from Irene, according to Camille LoBello of the Hillsdale and Westwood Flood Solution Group, an organization which seeks to facilitate government and utility cooperation in preventing future floods. Other homeowners did not document their flood damage because they were worried about being able to sell their houses in the future, she said.
There were also sporadic power outages in the days following Irene because of flooded substations.
In Washington Township, flooding was less severe, but homes near Sherry Field flooded and the Police Department had to be evacuated after a backup generator released carbon monoxide into the building.
State and federal government agencies have made funding available for buyouts of flood-prone homes.
In Hillsdale, the state already purchased one Hazelwood Avenue multi-family home with $415,000 from the Department of Environmental Protection's Blue Acres program, according to a DEP representative. A second home on Glendale Drive is also being purchased, but the deal has not yet closed.
Westwood received more than $2 million in grants from FEMA and the DEP's Green Acres program, which officials plan to use to purchase as many as nine homes.
Harding Avenue resident Joe Rivers told Patch he hopes to be picked for a buyout. Irene, which was the fourth time his house flooded last year, brought more than 7 feet of water into his home and borough officials notified Rivers his house was not safe to live in.
"There was major structural damage," Rivers said.
Rivers hired an engineer and put up temporary walls to satisfy the town and has been living there since. He said he is still concerned about flooding.
"We can only go through this so many times," Rivers said. "It just wears you down, physically and mentally."
Last month, the Westwood Council awarded a contract to Miller, Rinaldi & Co. to appraise the homes so officials can determine how many can be purchased. The appraisers are still waiting for state approval, which may take several more weeks.
Rivers and LoBello, from the flood solution group, both said they believed more state and federal funding is needed for buyouts and other flooding prevention and recovery programs.
Woodcliff Lake Reservoir and the Pascack Brook
The most severe local flooding from Hurricane Irene took place along the Pascack Brook, which carries water from the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir to the Oradell Reservoir.
Residents and officials have called for operations changes from United Water, the utility which owns both reservoirs. A report prepared for Westwood by Boswell Engineering recommended keeping the dam at a low level all year. Currently, the lower level is only used in the winter.
Mayor John Birkner said a recent storm proved that United Water should follow the suggested guidelines because there was some flooding, but little along the Pascack Brook. The dam was raised more than three feet during the storm, Birkner said.
United Water representative Rich Henning said the reservoir dropped 6 or 7 feet below capacity due to hot weather this summer. Henning said it is important to keep as much water as possible in the summer to ensure there is enough drinking water. He also noted that United Water contributes to the Red Cross and other groups that help people displaced by natural disasters.
United Water held a controlled release of water from the reservoir in the days before Hurricane Irene. Still, a U.S. Geological Survey gage measuring water flowing into the Pascack Brook showed a spike of about 8 feet when Irene hit.
An upcoming project to upgrade the dam to withstand stronger storms has raised more concerns about flooding. During the project, which is estimated to last two years, the dam will not be able to be moved at all.
Don MacLachlan, an attorney hired by the the Hillsdale and Westwood Flood Solution Group, said the rate of water flowing into the Pascack Brook could double once the project is done.
Camille LoBello and Claire Gaudiomonte from the flood solution group said they want a variety of government agencies and United Water to work together to help prevent flooding.
"They should have responsibility for their resource affecting our homes," Guadiomonte said.
LoBello said she believed the brook should be dredged so it can accomodate more water flowing through it during storms.
Rivers, who said he had previously also been active with the flood solution group, said de-snagging the brook would help as well, but many factors contribute to flooding.
"The flooding is going to get worse and worse," Rivers said. "We need to push forward. We need to look at ways to alleviate the problem.