Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flood Abatement: The Key to Quality of Life Downtown

Highlands is uniquely located on the shore of Sandy Hook Bay and the Shrewsbury River in perhaps the best location along the Jersey Shore. While we are best noted as a summer recreation town because of our close proximity to Sandy Hook and our renowned seafood restaurants, we are also only a 45 minute boat ride away from New York City, a world class cultural and business center. Most of the residents in Highlands live above sea level with good protection from storms due to the expensive and very effective bulkhead and pump system installed wisely after the 1992 flood. For this reason most summer residents in Highlands have chosen to make the Borough their year round home.

However, there are locations downtown in Highlands that routinely experience a collection of water in the streets. Some locations are subject to regular moon tide events which drive salt water from the bay into outfall pipes and into the streets. Other locations suffer storm water runoff from the Monmouth Hills section of Middletown leaving silt deposits in Highlands storm water pipes and most visibly in Jones Creek (the overflow basins at Snug Harbor and Huddy Park). While our pump system is effective, it requires regular maintenance by the Borough. The success of the Borough flood abatement solution also requires cooperation by private bulkhead owners in maintaining their private bulkheads where water may also seep into the ground and eventually into Borough streets. The Highlands storm water system is also in need of repair and updating in several areas and has remained so for several years.

In fairness to prior administrations I must admit that repairs and updates to the system are extremely expensive (roughly 4 million dollars). Clearly Highlands Borough taxpayers cannot afford to foot this bill all at once and without assistance from higher levels of government. Cooperation is also required from Middletown's Monmouth Hills residents in ensuring that the silt from their properties and the unpaved roadways does not remain in our storm water pipes and Jones Creek. Because the Middletown Monmouth Hills residents do not experience these events, awareness must be created through constant communication with them. The effect of the water events must be recorded diligently by photographs and reports by contractors cleaning the system and emptying Jones Creek of the silt and soil. There is much work to do before we will be successful in fully abating this recurring problem. However, the 2009 Borough Council and I have been working together to do whatever we can to immediately provide some relief.

In 2008 I asked Department of Public Works to designate a year round employee as a point of contact for flooding complaints related to the storm water system. A cell phone was provided to this individual so that he could remain on call around the clock for rapid response to maintenance issues. This individual is responsible for anticipating storms by monitoring the weather, and ensuring that pipes are cleaned and pumps are functional prior to storm occurrence. In 2008 I also asked Department of Public Works and the Office of the Administrator to establish a regular maintenance schedule for cleaning of storm water pipes in the Borough and for clearing of the silt and soil from Jones Creek. Administration and Public Works were already addressing the status of the Valley Street pump repairs and working with the maintenance bond provided by the manufacturer of the unit. The maintenance schedule for cleaning the system is aggressive and difficult for the Borough to maintain, but much progress has been made in reducing the amount of water downtown residents experience on a monthly moon tide basis.

Abatement of the collection of silt in storm water pipes and Jones Creek from storm water runoff during sudden rain events is a more difficult task. The storm water pipes in this area of the Borough as well as Jones Creek fill with silt and soil at a rapid rate with every heavy rainfall. The cleaning of the system after every heavy rainfall is cost prohibitive. To date we receive no assistance from Middletown Monmouth Hills in accomplishing this cleaning. Our goal is to establish a regular cleaning regimen that will avoid collection of water in the Huddy Park area after a sudden rain storm and to seek contribution from Middletown Monmouth Hills toward the expense. We are close to reaching this goal. However, I am advised by Borough Engineers that it may be impossible to produce the desired result without repairs and an upgrade to the system.

The 2009 Borough Council and I are committed to attending to this problem until it is resolved. We are presently seeking funding from FEMA and Economic Development grant sources to defray the cost of the repairs and upgrades. Regardless, the 2009 Council has made this project a priority by including it in the Capital Improvement portion of the 2009 fiscal budget. In fact, the 2009 Borough Council and I are considering removing other capital improvement items temporarily to permit this work to go forward while we seek grant opportunities to offset the expense. We must choose our priority projects in order to comply with state imposed budget limitations.

Highlands Borough Residents should rest assured that your representatives are aware of your difficulties in this area and are responding to your needs. Efforts are being made to make detail about our work in this matter available to you by every possible means. If you have questions or concerns regarding our progress, please feel free to contact your representatives by writing to them at Borough Hall or by using the email addresses provided at