Burnside Street residents seek relief from chronic flooding
By ERIN ROLL
On Nov. 30, a heavy rainstorm brought flooding up to Burnside Street residents’ doorsteps.
Now those residents, who have been contending with flooding for years during significant rainstorms, are asking the township to work with them on finding a solution to the problem.
Burnside resident Betsy Tessler told the council on Dec. 1 that the street floods every time there are more than a few minutes of steady downpour. Burnside Street is located directly along the Second River, just before it enters Edgemont Park through a culvert and flows into the man-made pond.
Council members Lori Price Abrams and Peter Yacobellis visited Burnside Street on the night of Nov. 30, at the invitation of residents.
“I saw waves crashing on people’s lawns,” Yacobellis recalled of his visit.
According to the National Weather Service, on Nov. 30 the Newark area received an inch and a half of rain. That evening, Tessler said, she and other residents watched as water drew closer to doorsteps and basement windows.
Resident Mario Russell said that, in addition to property damage, his household has lost four cars to different floods over the years.
The residents said that the flooding has been a source of anxiety, stress and frustration.
Besides routine flooding from rainstorms, the street has been particularly vulnerable during major weather events, such as the August 2018 flood and, before that, Hurricane Floyd in September 1999.
The township commissioned a study of the area near Burnside Street in 2007, which confirmed the flooding problems along the street.
The recommendations, according to the report compiled by engineering firm Keller and Kirkpatrick, were to overhaul the area’s drainage system and floodgate, including cleaning and desnagging the culvert that runs between Burnside Street and Edgemont Park, lower the water level in Edgemont Pond by 7 inches, to its original depth, and conduct inspections of the drainage system.
Another recommended solution was to run a bypass along Watchung Avenue and Valley Road into the spillway in Edgemont Pond, in order 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.
“It should be kept in mind that Burnside Street is located within a bowl-shaped, low-lying area with no natural outlet, and stormwater will temporarily collect or pond in lower elevations,” said a letter sent by Department of Community Affairs Director Steve Wood to then-Township Manager Joseph Hartnett.
But Tessler, Russell and fellow Burnside resident Eric Zaltas said that little in the way of lasting solutions, aside from lowering the pond level and clearing the culvert, has been done since 2007.
The township Department of Community Services, which is in charge of flood-related issues, did not return requests for comment on the history of flooding in the area, and on what solutions have been discussed over the years.
During routine flooding, such as during a heavy, non-hurricane rainstorm, water can reach as high as knee-level, 2 to 3 feet. But during severe storms, such as the 2018 flood, waters can get into basements and reach as high as 6 feet. Russell said his home’s basement had 6½ feet of water in it during the 2018 flood.
“We decided as a group that we really needed to get more attention from the township,” Russell said. After the 2018 flood, the residents hired, at their own expense, an engineer to do a survey and analysis. The engineer confirmed all of the findings from the 2007 report and seconded many of that report’s recommendations, such as a bypass from Burnside to the park by way of Watchung Avenue and Valley Road.
Much of Burnside Street is located within the floodplain associated with the Second River and is designated as an area of special flood hazard.
Properties along Toney’s Brook, which is a tributary of the Second River, are at risk for flooding during times of heavy rainfall. Similar concerns have been reported along Nishuane Brook.
The township estimates that about 7.5 percent of all tax parcels in Montclair are located within a flood zone.