BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Suffern – The Concerned Citizens of Suffern gathered local and state officials from both Rockland and Bergen County at the Suffern Community Center on May 3 to discuss continued progress on plans to develop flood safeguards in the Village of Suffern, protecting the Squire’s Gate community near the Mahwah River from deluges which destroyed homes in previous storms.
Attendees included county legislators Ilan Schoenberger, Alden Wolfe, and Ed Day, Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet, Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, State Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Ramapo Town Board Trustee Pat Withers, County Executive Candidate David Fried, Brooker Engineering founder Brian Brooker and Rockland Drainage Agency executive director Vince Altieri, among others. Though the project will occur largely in Suffern, no village representatives were present at the meeting.
The bulk of the meeting was spent inquiring about tentative flood prevention measures with Brooker presented up-to-date plans. The plan calls for excess water to be siphoned from flood zones to the former Tilcon Quarry site, where they will be diverted to pool in a separate bowl-shaped reservoir until flooding dies down and the excess water can be incrementally released back into the Mahwah.
Though concerns were raised that the runoff would flood the New Jersey side of the river with the excess runoff once the Mahwah merges with the Ramapo River, Brooker assured attendees that the extra release of water would not pose a significant risk because it would be released in a controlled fashion.
“The quarry program that I designed does not involve any channels or any changes to the river, because it’s just simply sucking water off at the critical time,” Brooker explained. “It can’t hurt downstream.”
According to CCE member Jim Giannettino, the program has been implemented slowly but surely since the first meeting on March 16. The CCE succeeded in organizing a cleanup of the Mahwah River which removed about 20 truckloads of debris and obtained the plans and contract between the town and Quarry Bridge, LLC., which manages the property and is contracting Brooker to build the remediation structures.
However, there have also been obstacles, including notification from the Department of Environmental Conservation that a town engineer’s permit was incomplete and required revision to address concerns such as sediment disturbances.
In addition, Giannettino explained the Goldstein Family, which owns Quarry Bridge, has been non-responsive. The inability to get the Goldsteins to communicate with Brooker about implementing a plan could mean Ramapo would need to use public money for the project, increasing the project’s cost from about $2.5 million to about $4.5 million.
“We are gonna set up a meeting and try to find out where they are, what their intentions are and what if any kind of a timetable they have to build out this project,” Giannettino said.
The possibility of state funding, including a possible piece of $400 million in state flood remediation appropriations, was discussed by Jaffee, who explained that her staff was following up on federal funding with U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.
Jaffee also suggested bringing the Army Corps of Engineers back to conduct a previously-planned study on the project which did not receive adequate funding.
“If the state had invested the money that it should have in the project, we wouldn’t be standing here and seeing the devastation and the cost of that devastation,” Jaffe said.
In spite of funding concerns, the three county legislators reaffirmed their commitment to the project, with Schoenberger emphasizing the importance of all levels of government working together to get funds and make the project a reality.
“Speaking as an individual legislator, I am less concerned with who is out there doing the work, whether Ramapo, whether it’s Suffern, whether it’s the county, as long as the work gets done,” Schoenberger said.