Grant will get O.T. complex above water

$4.4Min FEMA funds will help rebuild part of Poplar Village on higher ground

Staff Writer

 The Poplar Village complex was inundated in 2005 after eight days of heavy rains caused Poplar Brook to overflow. The Poplar Village complex was inundated in 2005 after eight days of heavy rains caused Poplar Brook to overflow. Ocean Township’s Poplar Village senior complex will undergo extensive reconstruction to help mitigate flooding with funds from a $4.4 million federal grant.

The township will use the funding, which was provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Flood Protection Grant program, to acquire 32 units of the affordable senior complex located at 67 Skinner Drive.

Township Manager Andrew Brannen said last week, “This grant … provides funding for the township to purchase the 32 units closest to the [Poplar] Brook. There are 93 units at the complex.

“The township will purchase the units from them, and with the money they receive, they will construct new units at a location adjacent to the existing Poplar Village,” he added. “They are hoping to put up as many as 68 new units.”

The entire Poplar Village property is within the Poplar Brook flood plain, with one end of the property more impacted than the higher end.

The township applied for the FEMA funding after conducting a cost analysis to determine if relocating the units away from the Poplar Brook and out of the worst of the flood plain would be beneficial and cost-effective. Flooding of the brook, which runs through Ocean Township and Deal before connecting to the Atlantic Ocean, has been an ongoing source of frustration for township officials and local residents for decades.

During significant rain events, the brook’s water level rises, causing it to overflow its banks.

The last major flood at Poplar Village occurred in 2005 when after eight consecutive days of rainfall, the brook crested over its banks. The ensuing flood devastated the nearby senior housing complex, sending more than 3 feet of water into residents’ apartments, destroying personal belongings and furniture.

Thirty-five residents of the community were displaced, some for almost a year. Some suffered major property losses, and in all, 23 apartment units and 30 cars were lost in the flood.

Brannen said the goal is to have the new units built before the existing building is torn down.

“We’d like to have the new units ready before the existing units are demolished, so those people have a place to go,” he said. “So there is a place for people to go and there is a transition from their existing unit to the new unit.”

Brannen said the 32 units the township will purchase would then be demolished and, according to the stipulations of the grant, no building could be constructed on the land. He said the site would revert to its natural state as open space. The flooding at Poplar Village and along the Poplar Brook has been the topic of many council discussions since a 2005 storm left 35 residents of the village displaced, and many experienced major damage to furnishings and vehicles due to the overflow of the brook.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management distributed more than $48 million in funding to various municipalities, and spokeswoman Mary Goepfert explained that the grant monies fund mitigation projects.

“What happens when we do the acquisition, after that, the structure is demolished and in perpetuity nothing can be built on that in the future,” she said in an interview. “That is what the acquisition is about: you move people out of harm’s way and then nobody is allowed to live there in the future.”

Brannen said that as of now, the Poplar Village project is expected to cost about $4.4 million, and he explained the initial plan for funding the new addition to the complex.

“What would likely happen is the township will pay 75 percent of the fair market value for the units and Poplar Village will essential provide a 25 percent match,” he said. “That is the plan at this point; certainly there are some funding concerns that have to be addressed.”

He also said that the grant runs until late 2013, so the township and Poplar Village have time to finalize a plan.

According to Brannen, construction of the new units will be undertaken by Poplar Village, meaning the professional contracts do not have to go out to public bid.

“The project is slightly complicated because the township’s initial involvement at this stage is limited to acquiring those 32 units,” he said. “Poplar Village will actually be responsible for the construction of the new units.

“This grant will allow this project to move forward, but it is in the very early stages at this point.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a 15-foot-high berm in Joe Palaia Park to contain flooding from Poplar Brook.

The berm would act as a dam to hold back Poplar Brook from overflowing during heavy rains and flooding homes and businesses along its path.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th District) had asked theArmy Corps to take on the project.

“Residents in the town always felt that we needed to relocate the residents further up the hill on the property that is closer to Roosevelt Avenue,” Pallone said. “We have a flood control project that is ongoing, it takes years to do the reconnaissance and the feasibility and the design and they are supposed to have the project report completed by the fall of 2011.”

Poplar Village Executive Director Pam Morley did not comment last week on the grant, but in 2009 when the township applied for the FEMAgrant, she expressed support for the project.