In response to ongoing issues arising from multiple storms this past summer that caused damage to borough property and stormwater infrastructure, Haddonfield commissioners provided updates and assurances on the recovery process at a Sept. 24 public session and through additional communication with The Sun.
Commissioner for Public Works Bob Marshall said the National Weather Service in Mount Holly labeled 2019 “A Summer to Remember,” reciting the following statistics: since the June 21 storms and flooding that triggered the issues now affecting the municipality, the NWS issued 256 severe thunderstorm warnings, six tornado warnings, 52 flash-flood warnings and lodged more than 32 days of 90-degree-plus heat through Sept. 21.
In the past few months, Marshall and flood-affected residents have gathered for four neighborhood discussions: one regarding Concord Drive, one for Heritage Road and Lafayette Avenue, one for Homestead/Lansdowne/Hinchman/Euclid Avenues/Barberry Lane and one concerning Chews Landing Road, Station Avenue and Kings Highway.
More meetings are planned as investigations underway in each area continue and plans are developed to address flooding issues.
“Engineers do not design for freak thunderstorms or severe flood storms. They design for a 25-year storm. So we’re wrestling with this, we understand that some residents are still angry and we’ve authorized Remington & Vernick to do further studies,” Marshall said at the public commissioners gathering.
Asked to clarify those remarks, Marshall stated Remington & Vernick will undertake area studies and prepare options and cost estimates to improve stormwater infrastructure by Jan. 1, 2020. The firm has been meeting with individual homeowners and televised significant segments of existing stormwater pipelines to identify blockages, deterioration, and damages from other utility lines, he added.
“We vigorously, all three of us, worked with state officials, with county officials, and with federal officials to try and get some relief from families in Haddonfield, especially the ones on Concord Drive. Unfortunately, for FEMA, we did not meet the threshold (of roughly $13 million in damages for a federal declaration) for the area, to receive any kind of funding,” said Mayor Neal Rochford on Sept. 24.
Per Marshall, Haddonfield has participated in the National Flood Insurance Program since 1972. Homeowners are eligible to purchase flood insurance (up to $250,000 residence and $100,000 property) at reduced rates if the residence is not deemed to be in a delineated flood hazard area. Most residences in the borough do not lie within delineated flood-hazard areas.
Gov. Murphy declared a state of emergency for Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties upon the storm event of June 20, but later withdrew the application for FEMA relief after a state review of damage assessments determined that it would not qualify for such assistance.
Around Concord Drive – the hardest hit area – Marshall said discussions are underway with PATCO concerning options for creating additional pipelines under the rail lines and redirecting portions of flow away from existing pipelines. The Princeton Hydro study is underway and is expected to be completed for that area in mid-October.
Meanwhile, two families on the block who have been completely displaced by the June floods – the Luciottis and Vespes – have retained legal services of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, P.C. of Horsham, Pa., to assist in their recovery.
In the Heritage/Lafayette area, R&V has completed televised inspection of storm pipes and inlets. Additional inspection will soon be undertaken of the pipeline under the PATCO. Die testing will be undertaken during the week of Oct. 7 to determine the discharge point for a pipeline that is not adequately documented. Additional storm inlets, curb cuts and a stormwater swale will be created along Atlantic Avenue as part of scheduled road improvements next year.
For Homestead/Hinchman, video inspection of stormwater pipelines on Homestead Avenue has been completed. Repairs and the elimination of utility laterals intersecting the pipeline will be undertaken with road repairs presently scheduled for November. Manholes at the intersection of Homestead and Barberry will be upgraded, reconfigured and a residential sump pump collector pipeline installed, presently scheduled for 2020.
And in the Chews Landing area, repeated flooding requires collaboration with Camden County Public Works since significant portions of the stormwater system are within county road right-of-ways and drain to the overburdened Newton Creek outlet. A meeting date has been scheduled for mid-October.
In addition, the borough has requested the county to consider expansion of its Hinchman construction project to include improvement of stormwater systems by diverting flow away from the intersection of Hinchman and Chews Landing.
While the proposed remediation appears to be comprehensive, commissioners caution the public that corrections and improvements to aging infrastructure will be no easy fix, will be costly and may not solve all potential issues.
“I do hope commissioners are awakened to the fact that certain areas and situations are changing around us, so there’s a long-term view which I think you’ve fully grasped, but maybe a short-term view where we can take some corrective action to keep people safe as well,” said resident Herb Hess on Sept. 24.
As such, commissioners recommend that residents consider flood detectors, which are available at major hardware stores for prices similar to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Homeowners who have security systems can usually add the apparatus to their current plan with an initial installation fee and small monthly fee.
Weather experts have called the June 20 downpour a “500-year event,” and its impact was aggravated by nearly five inches of rain between June 1-19, and 1.76 inches falling within a 24-hour period prior to the event, according to the NWS. The ground was already deeply saturated, which triggers a cascade of issues with storm outflow.
The heaviest rain occurred during high tide on the Delaware River, requiring the closure of flood gates that blocked the Cooper River, and as a result, rising and rushing waters had little place to flow without eventually causing damage.
“We’re taking in mind these historical trends and looking at our systems in the future to see how we can actually move water off the streets safely and route it to whatever stream or river apparatus we can come up with. And do it cost effectively to what a small borough government budget can handle,” Rochford concluded.