Army Corps revives flood mitigation projects

Staff Writer

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has begun a feasibility study that would kick-start a long-delayed project that could mitigate flooding issues along the South River.

The South River Coastal Storm Risk Management Project has languished in the preconstruction phase since a feasibility report was completed in 2002.

The report “recommended hurricane and storm damage protection for a 500-year storm event and ecosystem restoration of 379.3 acres of degraded wetlands,” according to the project fact sheet.

Chris Gardner, public affairs specialist with the ACE, said the South River project was authorized in 2007 but stalled before construction could begin.

“Put simply, it was a project recommended in the years prior to [superstorm] Sandy, but had not yet moved to construction prior to Sandy,” Gardner said. “The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 included funds to bring the project recommendation up to date and to also re-evaluate its feasibility to ensure it’s still a justifiable project.”

That process is now underway, Gardner said, adding that a draft Hurricane Sandy Limited Reevaluation Report is being prepared to recommend the project be authorized for construction. The ACE expects to release the draft to the public by the end of the summer, he added. Business Administrator Frederick Carr said the borough welcomes the project, but it could have used the protection before superstorm Sandy, had the project been funded.

“When you consider that the Army Corps project recommended a 16-foot levee system for tidal flooding and Sandy was a 13-foot storm surge … it would probably have mitigated much of the damage done,” Carr said.

“We would probably still have had a little flooding in town … but you certainly would not have seen the catastrophic damage that Sayreville and South River had.”

The project, if authorized, would include a storm surge barrier 320 feet in length along the South River; two combined levees 10,712 feet in length and 1,655 feet of floodwalls along the east and west banks in the boroughs of Sayreville and South River; and interior drainage facilities. In addition, 379.3 acres of Common Reed wetlands would be restored to wetlands forest, upland forest, low emergent marsh, mudflat and open water.

If the project moves forward, Carr said he sees nothing but positive impacts for the borough.

Currently, South River is engaged in the DEP’s Blue Acres Floodplain Acquisition program, in which Sandy-damaged homes are purchased for their pre-storm fair mar- ket value and demolished to be preserved as open space. The South River is the first major tributary of the Raritan River, with surrounding areas prone to “imminent” and “severe” flooding due to hurricanes and storms. Past floods have resulted in millions of dollars in damages, according to the ACE.

The study is focused on flood-prone areas within South River, Sayreville, Old Bridge and East Brunswick, which the ACE believes is the region where ecological degradation is most significant. However, the ACE also identifies the region as ripe for ecosystem restoration. According to the ACE, a design agreement was established between the corps and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection in 2004. The estimated cost of the project was $4,071,250.

Gardner said the cost of construction would be shared, with 65 percent being covered by the federal government through the ACE and 35 percent via the state of New Jersey.

However, the draft Hurricane Sandy Limited Reevaluation Report that is being prepared is intended to update the project, including the estimated costs, which are subject to change.