Water, water everywhere

Mayor vows to hold corporations accountable for flood prevention

The Golden Avenue Pump Station is working. But the water can’t go anywhere because of clogged ditches
The Golden Avenue Pump Station is working. But the water can’t go anywhere because of clogged ditches

More than 70 homes in the center of Secaucus flooded during a series of rain storms in early December, and Mayor Michael Gonnelli has begun to crack down on corporations responsible for maintaining drainage ditches.

Century 21, which owns property that includes a 2-million gallon retaining tank, has agreed to begin clearing out silt from the tank.

But Gonnelli said the flooding problem in the center of Secaucus also involves lack of drainage along a ditch that runs from the center of town to the Hackensack River, which corporate property owners have failed to maintain.

“There is a pipe that leads to the river and it is so blocked you wouldn’t even know it was there,” Gonnelli said. “We’ve started issuing summonses and will continue to issue them until these property owners get the message.”

Water problems and flooding have plagued Secaucus throughout most of its history, but a series of storms that hit in early December left homes in the center of town flooded and galvanized town officials into action.

The area is served by a pump station at the end of Golden Avenue which the town has upgraded a number of times since the 1990s.

“The pump was working fine,” Gonnelli said. “The water just didn’t have anywhere to go.”

“Everybody is getting a summons.” Mayor Michael Gonelli

Lack of drainage on streets from Fifth Street to Golden Avenue, combined with the slant of the land, help make flooding a permanent problem for many residents even during ordinary storms.

In the past the Department of Public Works helped clear some of the ditches that drained the water, but town officials say responsibility to maintain these ditches falls on the shoulders of corporate property owners. And this apparently hasn’t been happening.

Hartz Mountain Industries originally developed the warehouse district along the south side of town and built a massive storm water retention basin. But over the years and changes of ownership of the property, the basin, Gonnelli said, filled with silt and retains less rain water. The run off instead flows over into residential property.

When Hartz owned the property, it built berms to force the water to flow into ditches, maintained the retention basin, and kept ditches clear for the most part.

A wet history 

Secaucus has battled flooding for years. Since the 1990s, the town and Hartz have made efforts to clear ditches and the public works department has repaired some of the storm sewers in flood areas, installing pumps in backyards and other areas routinely under water.

Many of the original drainage ditches date back to the 1700s when the Dutch first settled in the area. Construction of berms along the Hackensack River helped stop flooding in the north end of town, and agreements with the county for maintaining pumps located in Jersey City helped reduce some of the flooding on the east end of town.

The Golden Avenue pump station is supposed to keep the center of town dry, but because the ditches that carry the water from the pump station aren’t clear, the water flooded the houses instead, officials said.

“We’ve come to an agreement with Century 21 to clean up the retention basin,” Gonnelli said. “Now we have to get the rest of the property owners to keep the ditches clear.”

Century 21 is expected to start clearing the retention basin early in January.

“This should take about three or four weeks,” Gonnelli said. “Meanwhile, we have issued violations to all the property owners along the line to where it terminates in the Hackensack River. Everybody is getting a summons.”

While Gonnelli stopped short of issuing blame to anybody for the flood, he said the flooding in the areas was directly affected by the lack of maintenance.

“The pumping station at Golden Avenue is working perfectly,” he said.

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“We’ve started issuing summonses and will continue to issue them until these property owners get the message.” – Michael Gonnelli