Towns await aid in flooded Burlco
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
By RICHARD PEARSALL
Beset by major flooding for the second time in three years, officials from several
Burlington County towns lashed out at the state Department of Environmental
Protection Monday for obstructing efforts to clean debris out of Rancocas Creek.
"We need the DEP to help us, not hinder us," said Patrick Delaney, the mayor of
Lumberton, where 74 homes were flooded when 7 inches of rain deluged the area one
"We don't have several hundred thousand dollars just to get the permitting" to clear the
Rancocas, much less dredge it, Delaney said.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Hoboken, who met with county and local officials here
late Monday, promised to intervene on their behalf.
"We'd be happy to talk to the DEP commissioner," said Menendez, who toured some of
the flood-damaged areas following the meeting.
Menendez reported that the head of the Federal Emergency Management
Administration toured Bound Brook in Somerset County on Monday and expects to
recommend to President Bush on whether to declare the state a federal disaster area.
A decision on such a declaration should come in "the next two or three days,"
Among other benefits, the declaration would make affected homeowners who do not
have insurance eligible for grants of $28,000.
Dave Wyche, a spokesman for the Burlington County freeholders, said the storm one
week ago damaged 529 homes in 26 towns, doing an estimated $8.3 million in damage.
The damage in North Jersey was far worse, Menendez said, noting that Bergen County
alone sustained an estimated $300 million in damage.
Kevin Tono, Burlington County's director of emergency management, said the damage
from this year's storm was less severe than in 2004 because there was "not as much
water," because some new dams worked as they were supposed to and because of
new flood monitoring and warning systems.
"We could detect the water rising and were able to go into action," Tono said.
In Lumberton, he said, "There was lots of public education and they used sirens to alert
residents, many of whom left the area and moved some things out of harm's way."
Officials from Southampton and Medford joined Delaney in complaining that debris
remains in the creek from the last flood and the DEP has delayed efforts to address the
Southampton Mayor Jim Young said his township also has complained about a "big
island that shouldn't be there," referring to an island that has formed in the creek over a
period of years, to no avail.
"The DEP won't listen to reason," Young said.
Delaney described the creek in his township as "extremely silted," adding that longtime
residents have told him that where the creek used to be 8 or 9 feet deep, it is now 8 or 9
Contacted Monday after the late-afternoon meeting here, a spokeswoman for the DEP
said she could not comment on the specifics raised about the Rancocas Creek, but said
it would be "unfair to generalize" that the permitting process is too slow.
"That's an oversimplification of a very complicated problem," the spokeswoman, Elaine
Reach Richard Pearsall at (856) 486-2465 or email@example.com