Stafford Leader

Stafford to Address Flooding, Explore Possible Solutions

Ocean Acres, Route 9 Intersection Problems
By VICTORIA FORD | Sep 13, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Stafford Township — Stafford Township residents filled the municipal meeting room Sept. 9 to learn and share about flooding and drainage problems throughout town, and to hear possible solutions. Tensions rose, frustrations were aired, suggestions were offered.

Leading the open forum-style workshop were Township Administrator Matthew von der Hayden, Municipal Engineer Frank Little and Public Works Superintendent George Yockachonis. They presented short- and long-term strategies for mitigating flooding, particularly focusing on Ocean Acres and roadways that intersect Route 9.

Specific areas of discussion were: the drainage basin at the intersection of Route 72 and Neptune Drive; Atlantis Avenue to Forecastle Avenue; Route 9 and Oxycocus Road, where the state Department of Transportation has already begun construction on a new basin; and Route 9 and McKinley Avenue, east of the Perry’s Lake development.

“These are the ones that have come up multiple times, with multiple phone calls from residents saying these are really big issues,” von der Hayden said.

Public works staff has been diligent about keeping the current drainage system (designed to support the area already built out) in operation, von der Hayden explained. DPW uses a vacuum truck to clean out the inlets on local roads; mows and maintains basins; and sweeps the streets three or four days a week to remove dirt, muck, sand and trash so it doesn’t wash into the drains and clog the pipes.

“Residents can help us out tremendously if, come leaf season, they could leave the leaves up on their lawns rather than put them in the road,” Yockachonis said. “Also, putting them out on your scheduled week is a big help. Leaves, brush, even trashcans, if you could, leave them up on the curb.

“Last storm, I called it a ‘trash flood.’ Everybody’s cans came down Breakers to Neptune, trash everywhere. The storm drains were immediately clogged. I was in water above my knees picking trash out of storm drains, trying to get the water down as fast as possible.”

Stafford has more than 3,000 drains spread throughout the town. But as the frequency and intensity of storm events increase, the volume of water is simply too great for the existing system. So the fundamental questions are: how, and where, to increase drainage capacity.

According to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, 2018 saw the most rain in the state’s history; and 2019 is on track to exceed that record.

Mayor Greg Myhre provided some background. This summer’s first big storm, on July 6, produced “an incredible amount of rain in a very short period of time,” he said. (About seven inches in two hours.)

“The end of the month, we found that Stafford Township had the most rain in New Jersey, by a wide margin” – a total of nearly 16 inches measured, 50 percent more rain than the next rainiest town.

Myhre noted Ocean Acres is the most densely populated section of town, home to more than 15,000 of Stafford’s total 27,000 residents. Until the early ’90s, that area was sparsely populated. But when it was opened up for regional growth building under the state Pinelands Commission land management regulations, sewers were installed. “Growth just exploded; went from 800 or 1,000 residents to 15,000 or 16,000,” the mayor related.

All that residential development means more impervious coverage.

“The water has to go somewhere,” he said.

As it is, more than 300 acres of land drains into the Neptune (Drive) basin; twice that much acreage drains into the Forecastle basin. Conveyance is a major problem, Little said, with insufficient piping to get the water where it needs to go, fast enough. There’s a very large pipe in the street, 10-by-5 feet, that drains to the Neptune basin, but additional surface piping is needed.

Little said much work was done on the Neptune basin expansion project before he came in with the Myhre administration at the beginning of 2019. The previous engineer had developed plans, obtained permits from the Pinelands Commission and pursued funding opportunities to construct a secondary basin across the street from the existing basin, on the south side of Route 72. Von der Hayden said the new basin would be “a massive hole,” but it would offer much-needed protection for residents in major storms.

Little shared the results of an analysis of the existing and proposed Neptune basins in terms of the protection they offer:

Presently, in an average one per two years storm event, roadways get no flooding. In a once per five-year storm, there’s 1.6 feet of water in the street. In a 10-year storm, there are 3 feet of water in the street; in a 25-year, 4 feet; and in a once per century storm event, there may be 6.5 feet of water, severely flooding 40 nearby homes.

With expanded capacity, a 10-year storm event would result in 6 inches of floodwater; 25-year, 2.7 feet; and a 100-year storm would put 5.1 feet of water in the street and impact three homes.

To pick up where the previous basin expansion efforts left off, the town is looking at a $5 million project, he said, which includes installing two 4-by-9-foot box culverts under Route 72. One possible grant-funding source is the Office of Emergency Management.

“There’s no money in the capital plan to do any of the projects we’re talking about,” von der Hayden said. “That’s why we’re having this workshop. We want the public’s input. Is this something the public wants to see?”

Mainly, the public wants to see their homes not lose value.

Signs have recently been erected to warn motorists the roadway might be flooded. Steve Ingram of Atlantis Avenue remarked that if those signs had been up when they were real estate shopping, he and his wife wouldn’t have bought their house. He now worries those signs will make it harder for existing residents to sell their homes.

Another possible long-term fix could involve diverting water to an existing basin on the east side of the Perry’s Lake development, which currently appears to not be getting any flooding. That’s a job that could be done in-house at lesser expense.

Also, the town owns land on each side of the Forecastle pond, so there’s room there to grow. But fish, frogs and other wildlife habitat could present environmental obstacles.

One more possibility, to which the audience responded positively, is voluntary participation in the state DEP’s nationally recognized Blue Acres Program. Program Director Fawn McGee gave the audience a rundown of how it works.

“We’re just one of the tools in the toolbox” for homeowners in flood-prone areas who have “had enough” and are ready to sell their homes, she said. The state comes in and buys the house – either at pre-Superstorm Sandy (2012) value, or at current market value, depending how much funding the state can leverage from the federal government. The structure would be demolished, leaving the lot as open space and flood storage, she explained.

“If we can get enough people interested for it to be a state project, we do the federal grant application and handle the transaction,” she said. “You basically just have to say you’re interested; you have to like the price we offer you; you have to hire an attorney to look at the contract for you; and then we move forward.… Our job is to get you out of harm’s way.”

A cluster of willing homeowners is required for it to work, she noted. “It has to make science and engineering sense, to be cost-effective” from the standpoint of the state’s interest.

The application process takes a few months, the technical process (title, environmental review, appraisal) takes a few more, the state makes an offer, homeowners have a month to decide, and then it’s a matter of how quickly the homeowners can move out.

“We’ve negotiated $6 million of debt forgiveness,” McGee said. “We know how to get you what you need, and be your advocates.”

Stafford Councilman Michael Pfancook suggested residents adjacent to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge might also look into selling their property to the refuge.

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