2012-12-13 / Front Page

Rutgers students outline flood mitigation plan

Milltown officials may use plan recommendations for the Lawrence Brook Watershed
BY JAMES McEVOY
Staff Writer

MILLTOWN — The Borough Council was offered an extensive, in-depth flood mitigation plan at its Dec. 10 meeting.

The presentation was not offered by an engineering firm, but by 12 graduate students from Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, who had worked on this plan since September.

The presentation covered flood plain management, stormwater management, transportation, economic development and funding.

Judy Shaw, a senior research specialist with the Bloustein School and director of the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, said she began discussions regarding the borough’s flood problems with Mayor Eric Steeber after Tropical Storm Irene.

“I had the pleasure of working with Mayor Steeber and we had some long conversations about the shifts that are going on in the field of engineering and planning about how we’re trying to use mitigation as a strategy to reduce the risk in communities such as Milltown,” Shaw said. “So we offered to do a studio for Milltown.”

The students’ most significant proposal included the removal of the dam in the Lawrence Brook. According to the students’ research, the removal would reduce flooding while creating ecological improvements for the stream.

Darby Macaulay said modifications to the dam, including a controlled breach, could also improve conditions, but that this is often a tough sell to state agencies, which would have approve such a breach.

In addition, Macaulay said modifications to the dam could be as costly as full removal.

Students also incorporated the relocation of structures and buildings out of the flood plain in their plan, with Macaulay noting that the borough had already initiated several moves, including the borough yard, municipal garage and electrical substation.

In addition, the United States Postal Service (USPS) recently confirmed the reopening of the post office on Washington Avenue with the continued hope to relocate the USPS presence elsewhere in the borough.

Regarding stormwater management, student Matt Sarsycki highlighted the impact of rainwater and runoff on flooding and pointed to a number of potential solutions, including less costly and intrusive changes such as rain gardens or indigenous tree plantings.

More costly and substantial changes, including the installation of pervious pavement, could also mitigate runoff, he said.

Dan Turner discussed traffic and transportation changes, which principally entailed street improvements on Ford Avenue, including the installation of walking paths and medians.

Apart from incorporating some of the runoff techniques discussed by Sarsycki, including the installation of grassed swales, the changes would enhance pedestrian access, Turner said.

Another major component of the presentation was economic investment, which Boram Lee presented primarily in the form of the creation of a business improvement district (BID). Lee outlined the process of creating a BID and its role in a revitalized civic center, as well as the creation of a recreational area along the stream that the students have tentatively called “Brook Park.”

Logically, all of the improvements and changes discussed by the students would have accompanying costs, some significant, so Kelsey Brooks outlined a series of federal and state funding sources to address some of the changes suggested by her peers. Among the funding opportunities would be grants from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the dam removal.

The aforementioned grants, Brooks said, are made available when there is an ecological or public safety benefit realized from dam removal.

After the students fielded a series of questions from officials and residents, Steeber and borough officials said they were impressed by the presentation.

“I know we will be looking forward to working with you in the future,” Steeber said, adding that residents will have the opportunity to provide more input on the study in January. The council may then act on some of the student recommendations.

“It’s nice to see that this is really coming around full circle and that there’s potential that Milltown can solve its flooding problem,” he said, highlighting the fact that the borough and students agreed on the need to move structures out of the flood plain where possible.

Eugene Guerra, chairman of the Shade Tree Commission, said the group would be happy to work with the students’ recommendations regarding plantings and lauded their overall work.

“The presentation was tremendous,” Guerra said. “I really hope that the council and the people of Milltown will get behind it.”

After the agenda meeting, Shaw said the presentation represented a unique opportunity for students to use what they’ve learned in the most realistic of environments.

“The studio program at the Bloustein School was designed to get them out of the classroom,” Shaw said. “The opportunity for Milltown is absolutely wide open and the people of Milltown are interested in this; it makes sense to them.

“I hope that we will continue to work with them,” she added.

Contact James McEvoy at jmcevoy@gmnews.com.

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