By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

Residents of Montclair’s Burnside Street could see federal assistance for flood mitigation in the coming years, after a December meeting of local, state and federal officials and a visit to the flood-prone area.

The Army Corps is preparing a report following the Dec. 17 Montclair visit to determine if a project falls under the organization’s purview, public affairs specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers Hector Mosley said. The report will be shared in January, and state DEP and local officials will then decide if they’d like to work with the Army Corps or pursue other options, Mosley said. 

On Dec. 17, U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection representatives including Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette, engineers from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mayor Sean Spiller, Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager, at-large Councilman Peter Yacobellis, township engineers and public works employees gathered on Burnside Street to discuss impacts of the area’s flooding, and possible solutions. 

“It was a very productive meeting where members from the Army Corps team surveyed the situation, asked numerous questions, and got a better understanding of the situation,” Spiller told Montclair Local. 

Located alongside the Toney’s Brook tributary of the Second River, Burnside residents have been inundated with flooding from storms of all sizes for years, Schlager said. Heavy rains have repeatedly pounded the street, such as during a Nov. 30, 2020  storm that brought water up to residents’ doorsteps. In past years, residents have lost vehicles, and the township now prepares for heavy rainfalls by cordoning off the street to vehicular traffic

“The township engineers, along with an engineering firm that the neighbors hired on their own and paid for on their own, have never really come up with a solution on how to solve the flooding,” Schlager said. 

Spiller and Burnside resident Elizabeth Jackson wrote a letter to the Army Corps in November, and along with Sherrill, orchestrated a visit with the various officials, Schlager told Montclair Local. The Corps engineers met neighbors, walked the whole area and took photos, Schlager said. 

Montclair was one of three spots that Sherrill visited with the state DEP representatives and Army Corps engineers to survey flood zones; the other two visits were to Morristown and Verona.

Bringing together local, state and federal officials helps to better assess the impacts of flooding, as well as look for how solutions could complement and support each other across communities, Sherrill told Montclair Local.

“Our response to an issue as monumental as these devastating floods we’ve been experiencing takes cooperation and support from every level of government,” Sherrill said. “It’s my hope that all of the officials who joined us for the tour walk away with our residents’ stories in mind to fuel our work going forward.” 

Mosley said as yet, there aren’t Army Corps plans for projects in Montclair. But “depending on the outcome of the visit and report, and federal interest, it is possible that a study/project could be pursued in the future subject to funding being made available.”

Army Corps assessments prioritize public assets over private residences, Yacobellis told Montclair Local. With four Montclair schools damaged during Tropical Storm Ida and the Montclair Water Bureau, just off Burnside Street on Watchung Avenue, sitting in the floodplain, the township seems to be positioned well for a flood mitigation project, he said. 

“It’s these kinds of assets that trigger the Army Corps of Engineers' interest in action,” Yacobellis said.

But even if the Army Corps decides not to take action in Montclair, projects completed in nearby communities would also help with Burnside’s flooding, he said.

“There may be improvements that they may decide to do that aren't in Montclair that ultimately help Montclair,” Yacobellis said. “We're looking at things that will ultimately help the area at large.” 

If the Army Corps decides to move forward with a Montclair project, the state DEP would assist as a non-federal sponsor, DEP Public Information Officer Caryn Shinske told Montclair Local. Costs for such projects are split between the DEP, the Army Corps and the local municipality, according to a 2019 Army Corps report outlining non-federal partnerships.

A township-commissioned 2007 report on the flooding in the area, compiled by engineering firm Keller and Kirkpatrick, recommended overhauling the area’s drainage system and floodgate, including cleaning and desnagging the culvert that runs between Burnside Street and Edgemont Park and lowering the water level in Edgemont Pond by 7 inches. 

Another recommended solution, although costly, was to run a bypass pipe along Watchung Avenue and Valley Road into the spillway in Edgemont Pond, to pipe away stormwater. The report also recommended raising the grade of the roadway, but township officials deemed that option not feasible at the time. 

Burnside Street is designated as an area of special flood hazard by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is located in a contamination area dating back to 1996 due to a 1,000-gallon leaking underground gasoline storage tank at the township’s water bureau, according to a 2016 remedial investigation report by engineering company Gannett Fleming. 

Soil sample results submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection showed gasoline constituents, primarily benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, remained above the DEP’s impact to groundwater soil cleanup criteria. The township has been given until May 2024 — extended from a 2023 deadline due to the pandemic — for an environmental cleanup.

The cleanup needs to be completed before any stormwater mediation occurs, but “we all hope that we can address the issue as soon as possible,” Spiller told Montclair Local.

In May, township employees, officials and engineers met with residents to discuss both flood  and contamination remediation through electrical resistance heating, presented by engineers and township consultants Gannett Fleming. First used in the 1990s, the technology is now recognized as a cost-effective remediation technology that doesn’t require excavation. 

The township had set aside $500,000 in this year’s budget for Gannett Fleming’s plan to use the electrical resistance heating technology for the site, Yacobellis told Montclair Local in May. The plans for remediation are being completed and will be sent to the NJDEP for approval, Yacobellis told Montclair Local Thursday. When work could begin remains unclear, Yacobellis said.