July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Task Force with Thumb in Dyke

New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39) and Assemblyman Timothy J. Eustace (D-38), New York State Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/ Westchester), Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City), Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern), and Village of Suffern Mayor Trish Abato gathered at Lake Tappan reservoir, owned by New Jersey but located in New York, to announce the inclusion of the Rockland-Bergen Flood Mitigation Task Force in the 2014-15 New York State Budget.

The Task Force creates a partnership between the two states designed to address the chronic flooding that has devastated communities from both states for years. The Task Force will be comprised of volunteers from Rockland and Bergen who will collaborate with municipalities within the bi-state region to develop a comprehensive long-term plan to tackle flooding.

An example given by Zebrowski was what happened to homeowners’ properties in New York when the government ordered United Water to reduce the water level in Lake DeForest, a reservoir on the Hackensack, to reduce the potential for flooding before Superstorm Sandy. Unfortunately, the order was not given in New Jersey and the release had to halt because Lake Tappan and Oradell were at capacity.

Though the Task Force will have no more than advisory powers, Eustace, the former mayor of Maywood, said that these could include making recommendations to communities on the impact of zoning and planning decisions on flooding, dredging silt and debris out of rivers, and raising bridges. This would be of interest in West Nyack, where an abandoned railroad bridge acts as a dam over a Hackensack tributary, which has caused millions in damages from flooding through the years.

Local government has had little to no impact as elected officials have stated that the CSX railroad has historically only listened to government on a federal level. Vincent Altieri, Executive Director of the Rockland County Drainage Agency said, because of the cross border element with New York, this Task Force makes an appropriate vehicle to pitch projects to the federal representatives and agencies for funding opportunities. Because these proposals come from both states, it will already have both states’ approval.

“Through this task force we hope policies can be developed to finally get relief for homeowners in both New York and New Jersey,” said Carlucci, “The idea is to work together between the states. Water doesn’t know political boundaries.”

What it took to get this far was almost as rampant as the devastation that flooding has caused in the two counties for years, cresting with Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoing the bill on December 18, 2013. The brainchild of West Nyack residents Phil Bosco, Ray Storms, and Bob Dillon, with the help of Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack, the legislation was first introduced by the late New York State Senator Thomas Morahan.

The challenge was that the bill had to be identical in both states and such a document was signed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2012. It proposed a panel of 12 voting members appointed by both states’ governor, heads of each state’s senate, head of each state’s assembly, each state’s assembly minority leader and senate minority leader and two appointed by each state’s environmental department who would serve ex officio.

Twelve non-voting members would represent each state’s department of transportation, the county executives of Rockland and Bergen, a representative of United Water, and a representative of the Army Corp of Engineers. The area of responsibility for the Task Force is the Hackensack, Mahwah, Passaic, Ramapo, and Saddle rivers, as well as the Sparkill Brook/Creek that cross the interstate border region.

The duties of the task force are:

To assess present and projected development and land use practices, and identify actual and potential environmental threats and problems and assess their effect on the environment; develop regulations, procedures, policies and planning strategies and model ordinances and resolutions; coordinate environmental cleanup, maintenance, and protection efforts; coordinate with both states’ environmental departments, the Army Corp of Engineers, and all affected municipalities; recommend appropriate state legislation and administrative action; advocate for and coordinate distribution of federal, state, and private funding for environmental projects; identify existing and projected flood hazards, and recommend and coordinate a bi-state comprehensive plan to remediate existing and projected flood hazards.

The term of the task force is two years with a report due in June 2016 on their activities, recommendations for legislation, administrative, and local government action.

When Cuomo vetoed the bill he wrote that the bill provides no funding to support the Commission’s operations, which the Division of the Budget estimated to be approximately $600,000 annually shared between New York and New Jersey even though the text of the bill stated the appointees would serve without pay. However the New York State legislature allocated $100,000 towards the Task Force’s expenses in the 2014 budget. Comparatively, the damage caused by floods from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Hurricane Irene in 2011, Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Lee in 2012 cost taxpayers from both states billions of dollars.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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