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Opposition Grows to Army Corps of Engineers Study to Build Dam in South Mountain Reservation

Cynthia Cumming

Saturday, March 29, 2014 • 11:06pm

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo has joined the growing number of groups and organizations opposed to to the study by the Army Corps of Engineers that includes the possibility of construction of a dam in South Mountain Reservation that would address downstream flooding on the Rahway River.

The study offered the possibility of constructing an 880-foot long, 70 foot-tall earthen dam in South Mountain Reservation that would address downstream flooding issues on the Rahway River. The dam would transform a large part of the reservation into a "retention basin" to collect flood waters after heavy storms.

Part of the process would include the closing of Brookside Drive. According to DiVincenzo, "We have always maintained that protecting the reservation was our priority and informed the Mayor’s Council on the Rahway River in the summer of 2013 of this important and unchangeable condition. We also told them to find alternatives that were less detrimental to South Mountain and kept Brookside Drive open.”

Flooding in Millburn, Cranford and other communities downstream along the Rahway River has been an ongoing issue for years, and the Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to do a study. The options outlined to create a dam is also opposed by the Essex County Parks Department, the Sierra Club, South Mountain Friends of the Reservation, Coalition of towns for the Rahway River, and several other groups.

According to DiVincenzo's press release, "A study in 1976 led by Thomas C. Hunter, Jr., Colonel and District Engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, states there are other ways to address the flooding issue, including deepening the Rahway River so more water can be held between its banks, stabilizing the Rahway River by constructing concrete channels, and creating floodwalls and levees in the vicinity of Millburn, and widening and deepening the river channel, modernizing bridges to allow flood water to flow through unimpeded, and using some concrete channels in the vicinity of Cranford. The study also found that the costs of using Diamond Mill Pond and Campbell’s Pond in South Mountain Reservation “far exceed the flood control benefits derived from such a plan” and that Campbell’s Pond has been “found to be marginally uneconomical” and “would have little effect upon the flood problem experienced along the East Branch in the Townships of Millburn and Union.”

A laundry list of issues associated with the dam included traffic issues and road closures; potential flooding of recreational areas; destruction of the landscape; loss of revenue; and potential mosquito population problems. In addition, a dam to create a detention basin would still not completely eliminate Rahway River flooding, and might even disrupt the ecosystem in South Mountain Reservation.

According to the Rahway River Association, the "River encompasses 130 square miles, stretching from Edison Township in Middlesex County north to the Oranges of Essex County and westward to the Watchung Ridges. 

The Rahway River is 24 miles long and drains a land area of 41 square miles of Essex, Middlesex and Union counties. 

There are 24 municipalities in the Rahway River watershed including Maplewood, Millburn, South Orange and West Orange in Essex County, Carteret and Edison in Middlesex County and Cranford, Mountainside, Springfield and Rahway in Union County."

While the study was not a formal recommendation, negative feedback for even the possibility has been fast and furious. Although the issue of flooding along the Rahway River is a serious one and needs to be addressed, it is doubtful that a dam in South Mountain Reservation will be part of the solution.

 

 

 

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