Experts To Probe Source Of Flooding Hot Spot

May 3, 2018
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Motorists navigate flooding on Palmer Avenue after an intense morning rainstorm on April 16. Holmdel retained Rutgers University for $12,600 to investigate why the flooding in the area is so severe.

By Jay Cook |

HOLMDEL – When you have to break out the canoes just to get around after a rainstorm, then you know there’s a problem.

For years, the section of Palmer Avenue from Route 35 to Middle Road/Main Street has experienced severe flooding following rainstorms. Holmdel homeowners living on the north side of the county road are growing increasingly concerned about flooding on their properties. Their neighbors across Palmer Avenue in Middletown also have complaints, as do residents in neighboring Hazlet.

Some blame the Waackaack Creek and Mahoras Brook. Others say it’s caused by stormwater runoff at a corporate campus. Some point to overdevelopment.

“Palmer Avenue is a disaster,” said Holmdel Committeeman Michael Nikolis. “Flooding has always been an issue on Palmer and as the population’s increased, it’s become more and more in the public consciousness.”

In an effort to get to the source of the problem, Holmdel has kicked off a year-long partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, to study the roadway and residential flooding in Holmdel and north over to Route 36 through Hazlet, Union Beach and Keansburg.

The Rutgers University group is led by Christopher C. Obropta, Ph.D., who told The Two River Times that curbing flooding issues is more than just looking at water levels.

“If there’s one less thing people can worry about by just getting to work safely and not have to worry about roads being flooded out, I think that would be a great thing,” he said.

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The Waackaack (pronounced Way-Cake) Creek is one of the more unique Bayshore and Raritan Bay bodies of water along the northern Jersey Shore, said Greg Remaud, CEO and Baykeeper for the Keyport-based NY/NJ Baykeeper. It travels about 6 to 8 miles from its starting point in Keansburg where it’s made up of salt water. As the creek travels south into Hazlet, it eventually turns brackish and is still influenced by tides. But by the time it reaches Holmdel, through Allocco Park and along Palmer Avenue, the water is fresh and no longer impacted by the tides, Remaud said.

So, what exactly causes that flooding?

Flooding on Palmer Ave.

Committeeman Nikolis, a member of Holmdel’s environmental commission, believes the Palmer Avenue overflows can be attributed to stormwater runoff from the AT&T Labs on Laurel Avenue in Middletown. Although it still has to be studied, Nikolis said environmental commission members have looked at how the AT&T site might have undersized stormwater drainage basins, causing additional flooding into Holmdel.

Another theory is that overdevelopment might play a role, Remaud said. NY/NJ Baykeeper has worked throughout the 2000s to preserve as much open green space along the Waackaack Creek as possible. NY/NJ Baykeeper, along with a number of different agencies, helped secure the 11-acre Neil Waackaack tract in 2010 which expanded the preserved land around Allocco Park.

Newer developments on either side of the Waackaack through Hazlet could also have disrupted the environment, Remaud said.

Preserving land around the Waackaack Creek is important, Remaud continued, “so people could walk along and also have a wide corridor so there’s a place for the water to go. Overall, the Bayshore is fantastic like that, but we still infringe on our creeks.”

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Other flood mitigation plans have been floated for Palmer Avenue. Nikolis said the township received approval from Monmouth County to raise the roadway between 3 to 4 inches in hopes of reducing the flooding impact. Nikolis isn’t so sure that’s the answer, though.

“I’m an emergency medical technician and that’s like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound,” he said. “It’s not going to stop the problem.” Over the next 12 months, Obropta, from Rutgers, will test every theory as he tries to locate the flood source. The Rutgers University study team will create and study a number of models of the Waackaack Creek and will also identify “best management practices” for flood mitigation and green infrastructure to lessen the flooding.

“The important part of this is that every little thing helps,” Obropta said. “Every place where we can put in a little stormwater management and reduce the runoff, eventually that will add up and make a difference.”

Holmdel’s ultimate goal, Nikolis said, is to use the Rutgers study to secure federal funding for any future necessary work along Palmer Avenue and throughout the Waackaack Watershed.

“I’m not promising that we’re going to solve this problem tomorrow, next month or next year,” said Nikolis. “But we’re looking at the bigger problem and the whole area.”

This article was first published in the April 26 – May 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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