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Column: Costs of Floods Keep Rising

More payments are coming to New Jersey but officials need to work toward more permanent solutions.

It’s been six months since two torrential summer storms caused widespread flooding in North Jersey, and the costs keep rising.

Last week, New Jersey's U.S. senators announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was giving grants of $21 million to elevate houses and to buy out homes hit especially hard by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee last year.

Parsippany would see the lion’s share of that—$7.2 million, both for voluntary buyouts and to raise homes above the path of flood waters. Denville is getting $2 million. Pompton Lakes is receiving $2.2 million for buyouts.

According to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, state and local governments are going to kick in an additional $7 million.

This is just the latest, and likely not the last, in storm-related spending.

Last December, $28 million was allocated to buy out 95 homes, including some in Lincoln Park, Pequannock and Pompton Lakes along the Pompton River.

Through the end of last year, FEMA had distributed nearly $167 million in assistance to more than 49,000 individuals and households throughout the state that suffered losses due to Irene. President Obama’s disaster declaration made people in New Jersey eligible for aid.

Additionally, more than $104 million in federal Small Business Administration loans have been approved for some 2,700 businesses and home owners. 

Individuals were not the only ones to suffer. Government incurred significant expenses, as well. Back in December, the state announced $10 million in aid to municipalities, counties and public agencies to reimburse them for some of their storm-related costs. Among these are road and bridge repairs, water control measures and restoration of parks and other facilities.

Payments are continuing. Through the end of February, Morris County governmental bodies have gotten about $2 million in total to pay for storm-related effects. The largest amount was $783,541 to the Rockaway Valley Regional Sewerage Authority.

According to the N.J. Office of Emergency Management, among those also getting aid were: Chatham, $71,785; Chatham Twp., $10,991; Chester, $18,753; Chester Twp., $21,501; Jefferson, $16,340; Kinnelon, $53,371; Mendham Twp., $54,922; Montville, $12,694; Morris County, $60,751; Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, $20,095; Morris Twp., $51,300; Morristown, $3,760; Parsippany fire and rescue, $36,033; Washington Twp., $16,002 and the Washington Twp. MUA, $32,551.

These are only a fraction of those that have sought assistance. Every Morris municipality applied for aid. Statewide, more than 1,000 governments and groups filed requests. Among the non-governmental groups that applied in Morris were Morristown and St. Clare’s hospitals and the Emergency Medical Services.

It’s good that people, governments and organizations are getting help to pay for unexpected damages and costs associated with the storms, especially given that last year was a doozy.

But these payments, and the fact that winter proper has been one of the mildest on record should not deter state and federal authorities from looking at the bigger issue of flooding and real solutions.

Even in a depressed housing market, $28 million is not going to buy out many homes. A gubernatorial advisory commission report last year estimated it would cost $3.4 billion to buy out 6,300 homes in the 10-year flood plain of the Passaic River.

The amounts announced last week barely put a dent in that. Still, it’s a start. But much more needs to be done and quickly. It is impossible to anticipate the weather but it’s well-documented where the waters will flow when the rains come. It’s almost April again and in New Jersey, April showers may bring flood waters.

Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, web page designer and mapper with almost three decades in the news business. Her column appears Mondays.

This column appears on Patch sites serving communities in Morris and Sussex Counties. Comments below may be by readers of any of those sites.

joe raich March 06, 2012 at 11:41 PM
The process surrounding Irene is still horrendous. FEMA decisions, banking and insurance policies, government decisions to buy out or actually fix the flooding problems, A -267 still in hearing with objections from the water companies, all are up in the air six months later. Grants to elevate houses sounds good, but rewarding decisions to keep reservoirs at high water levels are upsetting. Victims are still worried that flooding will happen again and that governments response won't help them.
Frank Drebin March 06, 2012 at 11:54 PM
The Mayor was to appoint a group to investigate what happened. Where is the "Flood Report" promised by the Mayor?

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