Much of Monday night’s Town Council meeting was devoted to the flood damage caused by the Saturday, August 11, rain storm and what might have to be done to bolster Verona against the next storm.
Township Manager Matthew Cavallo said at the start of the meeting that losses to Verona homes and businesses totaled $790,000, while losses at municipal properties were $200,000, for a total of $990,000. But Cavallo cautioned that, even though Governor Phil Murphy has declared a state of emergency in several counties, including Essex County, that may not be enough to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide relief. FEMA only steps in when a disaster has been declared by the president. The Council approved a resolution calling on President Donald Trump to do that, and Mayor Kevin Ryan urged residents to call their state and federal elected representatives to support the resolution.
The township noted on its website, however, that getting assistance from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration also hinges on Essex County hitting a total damage threshold of $2,885,005.92. At the Council meeting, Jay Coltre, who is Essex County’s representative to Verona’s Council meetings, said that there was substantial damage to Caldwell, West Caldwell and parts of Nutley, which are all in Essex County, but that damage to Newark had been light. He did not provide dollar estimates on flood damage in the County. Verona’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is working with other local OEM offices, as well as the County OEM office and State Police to tally up all of Essex County’s damage and submit an application to FEMA.
The heads of Verona’s infrastructure departments were all called to the podium during the meeting and their remarks made it clear that Verona has a lot of work to do to prevent similar flooding in the future, Jeff Sonntag, the operator of Verona’s wastewater treatment plant, said that during the 29 years he has worked at the plant, the August 11 storm was the second worst for the plant. “We need to seriously revamp our infrastructure,” Sonntag said, “and it kind of has to start at the treatment plant.” He said that while the sewer plant normally handles 2 to 3 million gallons a day, the inflow during the August 11 storm was between 40 and 43 million gallons. Municipal sewer systems like that of Verona are designed only for so-called 25-year storms.
Sonntag said that that there was a big inflow and infiltration problem on the key trunk lines that lead into the sewer plant. Inflow, Sonntag explained, comes from sources that should not be hooked up to the sewage system. In many Verona houses, the sump pumps are tied into the sewer system, which is now illegal. (Sump pumps should discharge into catch basins or into the street.) Infiltration occurs when Verona’s aging sewer lines are breached by tree roots or pipe joints come apart. Chuck Molinaro, Verona’s supervisor of public works, said the town has spent heavily to clean the trunk lines in recent years, including $20,000 this year alone. “We’re not neglecting it,” he said. “We’re staying on top of it.”
Michael DeCarlo, Verona’s engineering manager, noted that when he and Molinaro inspected some of the homes that flooded in the August 11 storm, they discovered what he termed “illegally built inlets” in some backyards that are tied into the storm system but have not been maintained by the property owners. He also said that out of the 100 or so complaints that he and Molinaro have gone through in the past week, only five were related to Peckman River flooding. Most, he said, were the result of street flooding when the house was at a lower elevation than the street.
Street flooding was a factor in damage described by four homeowners during the public comment portion of the meeting. Vincent and Monica Marino said their Mt. Prospect Avenue house took on five feet of water from street flooding and that additional water came through their backyard, which backs up to the new Annin Lofts development. The house is a bi-level and suffered extensive damage to both the basement and first floor.
Liam and Cynthia Holland said that several homes at the low point of South Prospect were also damaged by street flooding, exacerbated by motorists who chose to drive down the steep part of the street during the height of the storm, displacing the water in the street into houses. One driver even recorded a video of himself driving through the storm on South Prospect and posted it to Facebook.
DeCarlo said that Verona’s infrastructure team is working on proposals to address flooding in Verona, which will be presented at a future Council meeting. You can watch the August 20 Council meeting in full below.