There was minor flooding along Meadowlands Parkway near the Route 3 East turnoff. Penhorn Avenue and Secaucus Road were closed on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 13 after seven days of rain. By Oct. 17, the precipitation had reached a record 12 inches.
"Once the flooding started we closed the road - that was around 6 a.m. Thursday [Oct. 13]," said Mayor Dennis Elwell. "Penhorn and Secaucus road were impassable." Elwell said the floodings were a combination of factors. The St. Paul Pump Station where Penhorn Creek meets the Hackensack River is inadequate; the culverts and pipes in the flooded areas are silted in; there is loss of retention with the filling in of Secaucus Road east of Penhorn Creek; and seven days of continuous rainfall. He also said many of the underground pipes along Meadowlands Parkway used to transfer water into the Hackensack River have sunk into the mud. He said most were "very loaded and had no pitch." There is also one tide gate missing on private property in that area. Elwell said the Meadowlands Parkway was built 30 years ago by Hartz Mountain Industries and was "forced on the town" by Hudson County court order in 1998. "Despite the extreme weather conditions this past week, we still have a problem down there," said Elwell. "At present it has been corrected, but at the end of the day these issues need to be addressed."
Department of Public Works Superintendent Mike Gonnelli said the flooded areas have always been a problem during heavy rainfall. The intersection of the creek and the river is just two miles away from trouble spots. Although the culverts and drains were cleared last October, debris had backed up during the recent storm, he said.
Three Godwin pumps were rented by the county and brought to a pump station along a railroad access road off of the Laurel Hill Park area. The pump station is located where Jersey City meets Secaucus. The station may have been built in the early 1950s, Gonnelli said.
"It was built as a Mosquito Control mechanism back when they thought keeping the water low would aid with that," Gonnelli said. "It is not adequate for flood water control."
By the morning of Friday, Oct. 14, there was knee-deep water on Secaucus Road as a result of Penhorn Creek overflowing. There were large piles of organic debris blocking the creek water from exiting to the Hackensack River through the pump station.
Elwell and Office of Emergency Management Deputy for the town and Hudson County and second ward Councilman Bob Kickey asked the county for the additional pumps. The Godwins can pump 3,000 gallons of water per minute.
"By 9:30 Friday morning [Oct. 14], all three pumps were up and running," Kickey said. "By late Friday night, the streets were clear."
To date, over $3,000 in fuel has been spent operating the rented pumps, Gonnelli said. He said the station needs to be rehabilitated, since the rented pumps are a "Band-Aid on a big problem."
Loss of retention
The loss of retention material is due in part to the filling of 100 acres of marshy wetlands, Elwell said. In 2003, the Hudson County Planning Board allowed FDP Enterprises on Secaucus Road on the Jersey City side to create an Intermodal Rail Facility for the transfer of freight from railroad cars to trucks. Close to 70 acres of the property was paved.
The Planning Board determined at that time that the project would "have minimal impact on the county roads and drainage facility." Ewell contends that FDP is responsible for design modifications to the pump station to keep it effective.
Gonnelli, who is also a NJMC commissioner, said that $78,000 had been given to the county by NJMC for new pumps at St. Paul's. To date there are no modifications or pumps, he said.
"There has been an unfortunate loss of retention, and some of it is because of this property," said Elwell. "The entire area has always been a water retention basin for the western slope of Jersey City and parts of North Bergen. There is no place for the water to go now."
Elwell called for a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 20 in Town Hall with the many businesses affected by the flooding: area businesses, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, Hudson County officials, the Fire Department, town engineers, CFX and Norfolk Southern railroads and FDP Enterprises.
What to expect
Buddy Demellier, new Director of Roads and Public Property, will represent the county. He said the recent rainfall is "not the incident to measure the problem by, since it exists with much less rain."
"The main issues would be floodplain management and pump station upgrades," said Demellier. "We hope to piece together the parameters of the problem and determine what services would be an appropriate solution." NJMC Director of Public Information Chris Gale said that the commission was "looking at the situation in Penhorn Creek with FDP, keeping in mind the Hackensack Meadowlands Floodplain Management Plan, to analyze what the solution should be and by whom it should be implemented."
The NJMC is responsible for the preparation, adoption, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of a comprehensive Floodplain Management Plan, which is comprised of representatives from the municipalities and the public.