Residents battle to stop flooding near warehouse

Monroe, J’burg agree to study issue, provide new sump pumps


JAMESBURG – While Costco may help its members save money, a group of residents is saying that the company’s local construction has cost them thousands of dollars.

Officials in both Monroe and Jamesburg are now working together to rectify flooding problems in the vicinity of the Costco warehouse on Possum Hollow Road in Monroe, but neither town is taking the blame for nearby residents’ woes.

“I don’t think Monroe Township is responsible for any problems Costco may create,” Monroe Township Engineer Ernie Feist said. “If this is an issue they have with Costco, they can certainly take it up with Costco.”

Since before the Costco warehouse was constructed, nearby homeowners in Jamesburg have lodged complaints with the corporation, as well as with officials in Jamesburg and Monroe. Three sides of the Costco property border Jamesburg.

“Costco is supposed to be such a reputable company,” Jamesburg resident Barbara Bushman said. “They just have so much power and so much money that I don’t know what to do anymore, and I’ve been fighting this for years. Monroe is also responsible for putting it in.”

According to Bushman, attempts to get Costco to address residents’ problems have been ignored or refuted. At a public meeting held in Monroe in July 2006 with residents, town officials and Costco representatives, Bushman said, the company’s spokespeople advised her to get an attorney. Bushman did just that.

“[My attorney] told me they would just wipe me out in court fees,” Bushman said.

Several attempts to reach representatives of Costco for this story went unanswered.

The Borough of Jamesburg sued the Monroe Township Planning Board and Costco over the board’s approval to build the warehouse, in 2000, alleging that the board made an erroneous decision. The case was eventually settled, with approval given to the project with the provision that neighboring homes would not be affected by the warehouse’s construction.

Residents said the problems began nearly a decade ago, when dynamic compaction was done at the site to level the land and prepare it for building. Walls cracked in a number of houses surrounding the site, and every room of Bushman’s Gatzmer Avenue home was damaged during the process, she said.

“It was like an earthquake,” Bushman said.

Floods swamp six homes

Fast forward to September 2004, when the first major flooding of Bushman’s and five other area homes caused major damage. Water came through the basement windows of the homes, and the fire department had to assist residents in pumping out the water when sump pumps failed, she said.

“Before that, we never had a drop of water in our basement,” Bushman said. “Within an hour, we lost 90 percent of our belongings in the basement.”

Bushman and other flood victims at- tributed the damage to Costco’s retention pond, which is located roughly 100 yards from the neighborhood. She said Jamesburg Mayor Tony LaMantia came out to assist the residents, but noted that neither Costco nor Monroe did anything to help with the damages.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” nearby homeowner Debbie Daidone said. “You can’t replace what you lose, that’s the problem.”

The Bushmans set about installing a waterproofing system to avoid future calamities, complete with French drains and two sump pumps. They also had to repair walls and replace their basement carpeting, among other losses including furniture, clothing and toys, Bushman said.

“It took us months to clean and sterilize the basement, because that’s not just rainwater, it’s contaminated water,” she said.

By June 2005, the Bushmans thought their work was done, but a month later another storm struck the area, bringing 3 feet of water into the Bushmans’ home. The retention pond collapsed, causing the entire block to be evacuated, she said.

A video filmed by Charlie Daidone shows a flooded Gatzmer Avenue, with water rushing over Costco’s retention wall. The home that then belonged to the Gandy family was filmed, showing several feet of water in the basement. Residents said they could smell fuel oil in the water.

“I’ve been here over 20 years … and have not ever had any flooding,” Edward Gandy said in the video. “Costco built their warehouse, and this is what we have now.”

The Gandys moved to a retirement community, selling their home last year. This summer, five months after Maria and Tom Neidwicki moved in, they were hit by the flooding.

Officials: No easy resolution

According to Feist, Costco has made necessary repairs to the retention pond to make it conform to township standards.

“We’ve been having constant problems in the area that we feel have been coming from Costco,” LaMantia said.

It’s an ongoing problem that [has] got to get straightened out.”

Monroe officials said they agree that the problem must be addressed, but are not necessarily attributing it to Costco.

“They want a very fast solution, and I don’t blame them,” Monroe Environmental Protection Manager John Riggs said.

They think it’s from Costco’s pond, but it’s a downstream problem. It’s easy to blame Costco. It’s not an overnight solution.”

Riggs and Feist said the 2005 storm was an extraordinary occurrence, and damages from it should not be blamed on any specific entity. According to Riggs, there were no flooding problems until that “1,000-year storm” hit the area, bringing 8-10 inches of rain within a two-hour period.

“I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into anything that happened that day,” Feist said. “It had nothing to do with a particular landowner.”

Bushman said residents’ complaints are often discounted by officials’ referencing the one major storm in order to deflect blame. She pointed out the other storms that brought damages to homeowners.

“It’s not the township’s liability, from our standpoint,” Riggs said. “We can’t just arbitrarily give them money. It’s against the law.”

No matter who, or what, is to blame, some level of relief is coming from Monroe. Jamesburg Borough Engineer Alan Dittenhoffer met with Feist at the end of August to eke out a solution for the surface runoff and groundwater elevation issues that are affecting the Jamesburg residents.

“[Dittenhoffer] and I have been working through this to help out the folks that have had problems with groundwater elevation,” Feist said. “That’s what we’re investigating.”

Both Feist and Monroe Township Business Administrator Wayne Hamilton said they thought Costco had resolved the other issues with residents. The township released Costco’s performance bond, Feist said, because the company left no outstanding issues as far as Monroe officials saw.

According to Riggs, when Costco was originally approved, it gave the township $50,000 earmarked for studies dealing with possible groundwater issues. The water tables have increased in elevation in both Jamesburg and Monroe, Riggs said.

“We’re not taking it lightly, we’re taking it very seriously,” Riggs said. “We’re working on it aggressively.”

Help on the way?

A number of entities are working to fix problems there, including the Army Corps of Engineers, a task force formed by the county freeholders and the county’s mosquito commission, Riggs said.

Bushman said the residents want to be certain that the flooding will not happen again.

“We need this problem rectified, so we don’t have to live in fear,” she said.

Though the cause of the issues has not been identified, Feist agreed in a Sept. 5 letter to Dittenhoffer that the Township of Monroe would perform various tasks to amend the problems.

The township’s public works department is slated to de-snag the ditch that drains the Costco retention pond, so that it will not overflow. The water from the pond drains into the county drainage system along Route 522. Feist stated that the department has previously desnagged and cleaned the drainage ditch downstream of the county drainage system there.

According to Feist, Monroe and Jamesburg will conduct a study of the area downstream of the Costco retention basin.

Also, sump pumps with battery backup systems will be distributed to the six Jamesburg homeowners in the area at no cost to them as an “interim measure.” LaMantia said that he submitted paperwork to Monroe officials informing them of the residents who should receive the pumps.

“That’s not compensating us for any of our losses,” Bushman said.

Feist also stated that he contacted Costco’s consulting engineer, Bohler Engineering, to inform it of the groundwater issues.

“My next step is to … make arrangements to get in and take a look at these homes,” Feist said.

Monroe officials did not have dates set for the planned work.

Bushman said the study, along with the cleaning of the drainage ditch, were supposed to have been done a long time ago.

“We’re really happy that all of a sudden they’re going to do something about this,” Bushman said. “If they did it when they were supposed to have done it, we probably wouldn’t have had all of this flooding. It took 10 years of us complaining for them to actually do something about it.”

Though residents are still disgruntled over the problems, LaMantia said he is pleased to see some resolution.

“I’m satisfied up to a point, that they’re going to get on it right away,” LaMantia said. “I’ll be completely satisfied when the work starts.”