When Capt. Mike Stefano of the Hoboken Fire Department responded to a call in August 2007 near Newark Avenue and Harrison Street, he knew the dangers that flooding poses for firefighters. Usually, the department deals with flooded basements, stalled cars, and other hazards.
What Stefano didn’t expect was a manhole to become dislodged and for him to fall into the opening.
His knee jammed against the side of the uncovered manhole. It saved him from a complete fall underground.
“As soon as I was pulled out, there was a whirlpool effect and everything was sucked in,” Stefano said.
Though the incident took place over three years ago, the problems of flooding continue. Mayor Dawn Zimmer hopes that when a new wet weather pump becomes operational in downtown Hoboken in spring 2011, these problems will once and for all come to an end.
“We are literally on the cusp of seriously addressing flooding in Hoboken.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
“We are literally on the cusp of seriously addressing flooding in Hoboken,” Zimmer said last week.
The tangible solution the mayor points to is the southeast pump currently under construction on Observer Highway near the NJ Transit rail yards. The $17.65 million pump station, built by the North Hudson Sewerage Authority (NHSA) is expected to alleviate 85 percent of the chronic flooding in the 1st and 4th wards.
The NHSA first broke ground on the new pump station on Observer Highway and Washington Street on April 19. Since that time, a new design has been presented because, according to an August city press release, the original design made the pump station look like an abandoned residence, and the community was not in favor of the design.
The reason for the flooding in the southwest corner of the city is because at some points that area is near or below sea level, and the Hudson River rises through the city’s ancient sewer system.
The original plan was to place four pumps around the city, beginning with an uptown pump. However, Zimmer said it was decided that downtown Hoboken is the victim of more flooding issues, and the first pump would best serve the city downtown in the 1st and 4th wards.
“We may eventually need all four pumps,” Zimmer said. “But it has to be a combination with a green solution.”
The danger with a solution which involves just the pumps is that it could eventually lead to the city being in violation of certain health codes, because the pumps will push rain water and raw sewage out of Hoboken through the city’s “combined” sewer system and into the Hudson River.
Weighing in from the flooded ward
Both Councilman Michael Lenz and Tim Occhipinti have made flooding a major issue in their campaign for the council seat in the 4th Ward, which encompasses the southwest corner of the city.
Lenz has said more needs to be done, because alleviating 85 percent of the flooding in the 4th Ward “isn’t good enough.” Lenz said all of the flooding needs to be alleviated.
“The sewers need to be fixed and maintained on a regular basis. Sewer monitoring has to be utilized to find out what’s really going on under our feet. Once we have the facts and the pump is online, we must get action to solve the flooding problem 100 percent,” Lenz says.
Occhipinti also has proposed tangible solutions to the seemingly never-ending problem of flooding in downtown Hoboken.
“Once we can all actually see for ourselves how effective one pump will be, more infrastructure grant funding may be needed to build additional pumps,” he says. “In the meantime, more must be done to ensure all new construction in Hoboken has a greater-than-required system for storm water management. This can be as simple as installing invisible water retaining structures in rear yards of new construction, or as complicated as large underground storm water tanks in larger buildings planned for redevelopment areas.”
The City Council has voted unanimously in favor of purchasing an EmNet system, which would essentially predict when and where flooding strikes in Hoboken.
“Before we pay millions, we should fully understand what’s going on,” Zimmer said. “Given that the pumps cost up to $18 million, we should understand what’s going on.”
Dangers for the Fire Department
Capt. Stefano’s fellow firefighters face more than just the possibility of a slip into a manhole when Hoboken floods.
“There could be wires down,” said Hoboken Fire Chief Richard Blohm, who has been a member of the fire department since 1977. “When you have wires that are sitting in the water you can have firefighters get electrocuted.”
In addition, Blohm said the firemen face tripping hazards when there is flooding.
“A few years back we had a lumber yard fire at Second and Clinton [streets],” Blohm said. “The water was two feet high. In front of my eyes I saw a Jersey City firefighter fall into the water, and he just laid there. We had to run over [through the water] and pull him up.”
The fire department also faces stalled trucks, a slowed response, and batteries shortening out during flooding. Blohm, like many residents, hopes the pumps will bring relief.
“We always get called,” Blohm said. “The fire department is like a 24/7 maintenance man. And we don’t mind that, it’s something we provide for the community…Hopefully with the mayor’s initiative with the pumps, it will solve some of the problems.”
Some cars may be able to go through flooded streets, others may not. Either way, closed roads should stay that way until the flooding has receded, according to Zimmer.
“It’s dangerous to move the [road closed] barricades,” Zimmer said. “People move barricades and choose to drive through, and then they get stuck.”
In order to combat the movement of “road closed” signs, Zimmer said she is looking to purchase “Gorilla Posts,” which are magnetic signs that leave the posts in place, and can only be removed by a professional, not just by a passing motorist.
The way the system works is a metal plate, which will not interrupt the roadway, will be installed into the ground. The city can then place signs on top of the in-ground magnet, and the sign becomes difficult, if not impossible, for a motorist to remove. The magnetic Gorilla Posts start at $150, according to ParkingZone.com.
No matter what side of the aisle the politicos in town fall on, all agree that a remarkable change in Hoboken would be an end to flooding.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.