Union County, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has responded to a recommendation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which effectively halts a decades-long planning process for flood control in the Rahway River Basin. Last July, the Army Corps of Engineers abruptly notified the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that work on the flood control plan is no longer merited.
“After 20 years of genuine progress, USACE halted the study for no discernible reason. We strongly urge the Army Corps of Engineers to resume work on this critical matter of public safety and economic security for communities throughout our region,” said Union County Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski.
The planning process has been under way since 1999, after Congress approved funds for a feasibility study for flood control in the Rahway River Basin. The Rahway River Basin covers more than 81 square miles within the New York metropolitan region, including parts of Union and Essex counties.
The action by Congress followed a series of destructive floods dating back to 1938, impacting Cranford, Rahway and other communities. More recently, severe flooding occurred during Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999, a springtime nor’easter in 2007, and Hurricane Irene in 2011.
“By working with the vigorous support of U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker over the years, and more recently U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski, Union County and other stakeholders in Rahway River flood control were able to keep funding available. In 2015 the Army Corps of Engineers even agreed to place the study on a priority track,” said Freeholder Chair Kowalski. “It is unacceptable for USACE to reverse course, without warning, and literally invent a reason for doing so.”
In its recommendation, USACE stated that “locally imposed constraints and lack of acceptance of the alternatives proposed has severely limited the scope of our solutions.”
“In fact, the opposite is true,” said Freeholder Chair Kowalski. “Union County has worked cooperatively all along with Essex County and the Mayors whose communities lie within the Rahway River Basin, and we achieved consensus on a plan developed by USACE.”
Freeholder Chair Kowalski outlined Union County’s concerns in a letter to New Jersey DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe, dated September 24, urging DEP to reject the recommendation to halt the feasibility study.
“We strongly believe that taking no action, as proposed by USACE, is an unacceptable outcome of the feasibility study process,” she wrote. “Union County residents and tens of thousands of people throughout the region are counting on us, and we must fulfill our obligation to protect life and property, among the most basic responsibilities of our government to the people we serve.”
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Full Text of letter is as follows:
September 24, 2019
Catherine R. McCabe, Commissioner
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
P.O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402
RE: USACE Rahway River Flood Study
Dear Commissioner McCabe:
On behalf of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the many affected residents of Union County, I am writing to respectfully urge your Department formally to reject the proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to end the Rahway River Flood Risk Management Feasibility Study.
As you know, many communities in Union County are desperately in need of protection from flooding related to the Rahway River, which has occurred regularly over several decades. For instance, an April 2007 storm caused such widespread and substantial damage that Union County and Cranford were declared federal disaster areas. We were again reminded sadly of the vulnerability to flooding from the Rahway River when Hurricane Irene struck in 2011. With a changing climate and the increasing frequency and intensity of rain events, Union County and its residents are tremendously concerned about how flooding will affect our communities in the days ahead. Less than 6 months ago, USACE indicated they were committed to help craft a solution!
For these reasons, we were surprised to learn on September 18, 2019 that USACE had notified NJDEP of its view that further study of plans to provide protection from flooding related to the Rahway River is not warranted because of the difficulties they claim, saying that “locally imposed constraints and lack of acceptance of the alternatives proposed has severely limited the scope of our solutions.” This is unacceptable, especially considering that Union County, the Mayors Council Rahway River Flood Control, and residents in both Union and Essex County for years had worked cooperatively on a plan developed by USACE New York District, identified as the Tentatively Selected Plan for Alternative 4a – only for that plan to be rejected in July 2018, totally without warning, by USACE Headquarters.
Since this surprising decision, the Mayors Council and Union County have been working diligently to engage USACE to develop alternative plans that would be acceptable to the affected communities. As you know, USACE Headquarters transferred responsibility for the project to USACE New England, claiming that its expertise in small dam safety would facilitate the planning process. Unfortunately, USACE New England has not worked in the cooperative manner that was promised. It is difficult to believe that, in just the last several months, all potential solutions have been exhausted.
We strongly believe that taking no action, as proposed by USACE, is an unacceptable outcome to the feasibility study process. In assessing the costs and benefits of potential plans, USACE fails to appropriately account for the tremendous costs of doing nothing. We urge NJDEP to reject USACE’s effort to arbitrarily and capriciously end the Rahway Flood Risk Management Feasibility Study at this time. Rather, we ask for NJDEP and USACE to renew their work, cooperatively and in close coordination, to develop an acceptable plan to provide protection from flooding from the Rahway River. Union County residents and tens of thousands of people throughout the region are counting on us, and we must fulfill our obligation to protect life and property, among the most basic responsibilities of our government to the people we serve.
We appreciate your kind consideration of this time-sensitive request and look forward to continuing to work with you to develop viable solutions and a path forward.
Bette Jane Kowalski
Chair, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Cory Booker
Rep. Tom Malinowski
Rep. Donald Payne, Jr.
Rep. Albio Sires
Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman
Governor Phil Murphy
Senator Nicholas Scutari
Senator Thomas Kean, Jr.
Assemblywoman Linda Carter
Assemblyman James Kennedy
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz
Mayors Council Rahway River Flood Control