The money was the result of a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) and will contribute to the town's proposed $2 million to $5 million flood control program along Sack Creek.
Although the EDA was established under the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 to generate jobs, help retain existing jobs, and stimulate industrial and commercial growth in economically-distressed areas of the United States, grants are available to help distressed communities address problems associated with long-term economic issues as well as sudden and severe economic dislocations including recovering from the economic impacts of natural disasters.
Rothman said Secaucus officials approached him about a year ago for help in dealing with serious flooding issues and through the use of the town's grant writer James Adams, the town was able to qualify for the $1 million grant.
"This is an example in which local officials are able to pinpoint problems and bring these to the attention of federal legislators to secure funds," Rothman said.
Town Administrator Anthony Iacono said the grant would be used as "seed money" in order to raise additional funds for the project. By having $1 million towards the project, Iacono said, other public and private funding sources would be more willing to contribute. The total cost of the project could be between $2 million and $5 million, depending on the scope of work the town takes on, he said.
They expect to get the money for the project by spring, and to solicit bidders.
Mayor Dennis Elwell credited the town's Flood Control Committee and the Town Council for its willingness to upgrade a flood control plan first designed in the 1980s.
"The reason we qualified for this money is became we had a plan in place," Elwell said.
Councilman Michael Grecco, in a later interview, said the plan for Sack Creek includes the installation of a tide gate and a permanent, powerful pump that could keep up with draining rainwater during heavy storms.
"When you have a heavy storm along with a high tide, water comes up Sack Creek and keeps rain water from flowing out," Grecco said. "What we want to do is build a wall - a tide gate - that would hold back the tide. Then we would use the pump to pump the water over that wall, helping to drain water off the streets and [off] people's properties."
As it is now, when the tide comes in, the additional water keeps the rain from flowing down Sack Creek to the Hackensack River. As a result, the backup of water often floods backyards, businesses and streets - and if a heavy enough rain - basements also get flooded.
Elwell said pumps and tide gates are part of the long range solution to the flooding. When the tide comes in, the gates close and the excess water is pumped out over them. This prevents the dual problem of fighting the tide as well as draining rainwater. While some tide gates exist at various points throughout the town, many were in extreme disrepair until the Flood Committee began a systematic program of upgrading them. Sack Creek has been a particular problem and an expensive situation to overcome.
"We knew we needed this for many years," Grecco said. "We just didn't have the money."
In 1994, when the Flood Committee was formed, they knew that lack of drainage, on streets from Fifth Street to Golden Avenue, combined with the slant of the land, help make flooding a permanent problem for many residents, even during ordinary storms. Although the DPW moved in to clear out some of the ditches, the problems are much more widespread and answers may eventually mean a significant capital investment in many areas of town.
Over the years, the Flood Committee instituted a variety of measures to reduce flooding in areas affected by the Sack Creek overflow such as installing drains in backyards and using smaller pumping stations and even portable pumps. While the town has a pumping station at the foot of Golden Avenue, this has failed to handle the volume of water without a tide gate. As a result, Chestnut Court, Golden Avenue, Minnie Place, Humboldt Street, Pandolfi Avenue, Raydol Avenue and other streets have seen flooding.
"That whole area has a problem and once this project is done, it will make a huge difference," Grecco said.
Grecco and Elwell, although in opposing political parties in the 1990s, expressed the need to work together, and as a result, areas in the north end of town have been made nearly flood-free as a result of the construction of dikes along the river. While dikes have existed for years, many of these were also in disrepair. Many of the initial dikes were installed by the Dutch in the 1600s. Early in the 1900s, Secaucus had a lot of cow meadows. Farmers installed sluice gates at the mouths of ditches to flood their fields, leaving their fields frozen over their winter to provide a green meadow grass called timothy as hay for their livestock.
In those days, the Hackensack River was fresh water, something that changed with the building of the Oradell reservoir in the 1930s. The lessening of fresh water from upstream allowed the ocean to creep up and made the area much more susceptible to tides. It also changed the nature of the water from fresh to a half fresh water and half salt water.
Through the efforts of the Secaucus Office of Emergency Management, the town has also received $20,250 from the state police to help cover the cost of upgrading its Flood Mitigation Plan.
Another flood project ongoing in the north end
The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission has just finished a design phase for a flood control project near the high school, part of an effort that will restore wetlands and control flooding on Millridge Road and Koelle Boulevard. Along with the installation of storm water drains, the NJMC is planning to redirect existing storm drains and install pump stations to deal with tidal flow conditions. Part of this project, according to NJMC Commissioner Mike Gonnelli, includes installing debris screens to keep pumps free of floating trash. "We're just finishing the engineering and design phase," Gonnelli said.
This project will include the construction of a nature walk, with bridges designed to connect islands in the wetlands areas where the high school can conduct nature studies. This is also a critical piece to Mayor Elwell's proposed riverwalk, which will allow pedestrians to walk the entire shore of the Hackensack River from the high school on the north to Laurel Hill Park on the south.