Friday, March 28, 2014

County Exec. Opposes South Mountain Reservation Dam Project


First on According to a statement released by Essex County Public Information Officer Anthony Puglisi, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. does not support the proposed 880-foot long, 70-foot tall earthen dam which may be built in South Mountain Reservation. If built, the dam would be located on the Rahway River in the western section of South Mountain Reservation. Campbell's Pond, Diamond Mill Pond, Brookside Drive, and many other areas of the reservation would be removed in order to make way for the dam. According to the release, "if constructed, the dam would transform a large part of South Mountain Reservation into a “retention basin” for flood waters after heavy storms, close Brookside Drive and create a structure that would tower over any nearby buildings". 

Brookside Drive connects Downtown Millburn with South Orange Avenue. 

“The potential for flooding in Millburn, Cranford and other communities downstream the Rahway River is a serious issue and should be addressed", said DiVincenzo, "however, it can’t come at the expense of destroying an natural resource such as South Mountain Reservation and reducing the quality of life for Essex County residents".

The release also stated that there was a similar proposal to build a dam in South Mountain Reservation over 30 years ago. However, a study had found that "the benefit of no work along the West Branch in Millburn resulting from a detention basin was outweighed by the potential environmental damage to the 63 acre area surrounding Campbell’s Pond".

 Two community groups, called the Rahway Alternative Flood Solutions Alliance (RAFSA) and Save Our Reservation, have been created in order to stop the dam. Save our Reservation, which is chaired by former Maplewood mayor Fred Profeta, launched a petition on in order to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the dam. As of the time this article was written, the petition had almost 3000 signatures.

In response to the announcement that DiVincenzo does not support the proposed dam, Dennis Percher of the South Mountain Conservancy said "through the diligent efforts of Fred Profeta, as head of Save Our Resolution...SOR has been able to create public awareness and mobilize opposition to the dam and 110-acre detention basin". Percher said that "county executive Joe DiVincenzo's public statement today, and those of other politicians, opposing the dam reflects SOR's outreach efforts and is much appreciated.  It underscores that these politicians recognize the public's concern for the South Mountain Reservation and the environmental impact a dam would have".

According to Percher, "the challenge now is to work with the USACE (United States Army Corps of Engineers) to find alternatives that cumulatively address the flooding problems in Millburn, Cranford, and elsewhere. This will require sharing the responsibility and burden over several towns".

According to the Save Our Reservation group, Assemblyman and Assemblywoman John McKeon and Mila Jasey, along with Congressman Donald Payne, have all come out against the proposed dam, along with the South Orange Village Board of Trustees.

The proposed dam is not the only construction project slated for South Mountain Reservation. Essex County recently announced a $30 Million project to improve both the South Orange Avenue 's-curves', and landscaping at the Crest Drive entrance to the park. Two new bridges will also be built.