The next big storm is coming. Nobody knows exactly when it will hit or how severe it will be, but somewhere down the line, another major weather event will hit Hudson County.
With that in mind, President Barack Obama announced a national competition called Rebuild by Design last June, to award money to firms and regions with storm protection proposals.
On Monday, March 11, representatives from that federal initiative, as well as from MIT, met with the public to discuss their suggestions to address flooding and other issues related to local weather events.
The new Meadowlands
Altogether, 10 international teams were selected by the federal government for the final round of the competition from 148 that applied. Each team chose a region or a problem to address.
“They’re made up of scientists and academics and engineers and landscape architects,” explained Amy Chester, project manager for Rebuild by Design.
“All the teams have been challenged to come up with ideas that have the support of local governments and communities in the areas that they’re working in,” she said. “The winners of the competition get funding from the federal government and from community development block grant funds which are set aside for disaster recovery, to begin to implement some of the big ideas.”
The team that met with residents on March 11 was focused on the Meadowlands, including Secaucus, Little Ferry, Moonachie, and Kearny.
Several speakers outlined plans to build berms in a perimeter around the Meadowlands -- what they called the “Meadowband” -- and elsewhere throughout the region, with walking and biking trails on top and possibly a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. Other suggestions included freshwater basins with swimming and fishing opportunities in locations to be determined, as well as landfills, rezoning, and repurposing existing structures.
“Something has to be done as soon as possible.” --Lou Vitulano
The speakers stressed that the plans presented to the public were works in progress and they wanted to hear reactions and comments. Then the session broke up into smaller working groups for table discussions.
Following the meeting, the design team has a few weeks to incorporate comments provided at the session and finalize their plans. On the morning of April 3 the team will present their final design to the public at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, and again that night in New York.
This spring, United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan will announce the winners of the competition.
The second floor meeting room at the library was packed for the event, with every seat filled. Attendees had strong opinions afterward, both positive and negative.
“I thought it was going to be a bunch of nonsense,” said Louise Rittberg, former literacy coordinator at the Secaucus Public Library, who had brought photographs to the meeting illustrating an issue that concerned her. “But I was impressed with the format, that right here we got to speak with someone who took my pictures.”
“Well, it doesn’t help us,” said local resident Joyce Dispoto. “Because they’re building a berm, but we’re not included in it. We’ll get more water. So we’re not happy with it. But anyway, like my husband said, we’ll be dead by the time that happens.”
“Something has to be done as soon as possible,” said Lou Vitulano. “That’s the biggest thing. It can’t wait 40 or 50 years. Are we going to have another storm? Absolutely. We just don’t know when.”
“We haven’t stopped in Secaucus trying to find ways to address what’s been taking place,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “I think that a lot of the things that we’ve been doing are pretty similar to the things that [Rebuild by Design] have been planning. We’re trying to tie in not only flood control but also different elements. Some of our flood berms become bike trails or walking trails.”
“I’ve been in Secaucus since I’m 4 years old, and I have a daughter who’s a year and a half and I’m going to be raising her here,” said Secaucus High School Principal Rob Valente. “And this is something that can improve the quality of her life here in this town. I might not be here 50 years from now, but my daughter will, and maybe her kids will and we can’t be that shortsighted.”
“We’re doing a lot and we really look forward to working together, working with the other municipalities that experienced the same kind of problems,” said Mayor Gonnelli.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.