Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Release the Rivers!

In a nearly unprecedented move (at least as far as anyone in northern New Jersey can remember), N.J. Gov. Christie gave the word on Friday to reduce the reservoir levels by three feet in Wanaque and Pompton Lakes, ahead of the anticipated flooding from Hurricane or Tropical Storm Irene tomorrow.

The mayors of Wayne Pequannock, Little Falls, Fairfield, and Pompton Lakes spoke with the governor on a Friday morning conference call. He cautioned the mayors that he was taking a “leap of faith” in giving the order. By decreasing the water level now, authorities hope it will decrease the chance of major flooding when the storm hits.  The Newark Star-Ledger noted that “it remains unclear if all will go according to plan, or if moving that much water before the storm will have an adverse effect on towns downstream.”

The paper quoted U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th Distr.) as saying, “I have no idea what will happen when we open those gates. Maybe it will work.”

Post Brook was nearly bone dry below the Lower Twin Lake Dam on Thursday evening. Once the gates were opened, it quickly traveled off, long before Hurricane Irene even made landfall in North Carolina. By now it should have found its way out to sea. There’s a good chance Irene will pick up that water and drop it right back into the Wanaque Reservoir again. But at least the water will have someplace to go. The lake and reservoirs have been held back for years at the behest of lakeside residents. The Pompton Dam was installed to protect upstream residents at the costs of hundreds of thousands of homeowners downstream from southern Pompton Lakes right on down to Fairfield, where the Pompton River joins up with the Passaic River.

“Pompton” in the Lenni Lenape Indian language means “convergence” or “meeting of the waters.” Three major rives, or streams if you like, eventually meet up in southern Pompton Lakes – the Pequannock (“the river between two hills”), the Wanaque (“rest and repose”, and the Ramapo (“sweet water”), which then form the Pompton River.  The Pompton Dam may have once protected a small number of vacation homes up above Pompton Lake, on the Ramapo River, in long ago days. Since the 1960s, however, too many people have made their homes here for politicians and bureaucrats to send their common sense on vacation while thousands of working class people are driven out of their homes.

Since the dam was built in 2007, homes have flooded that never flooded before. It’s not just Old Wayne and Beaver Brook in Pequannock (all former vacation homes), or the former cottages along the Passaic River in Fairfield and West Paterson (where my grandparents used to live) that are flooding out anymore.  Route 23 from the junctions at Route 46 and 80, north to just short of the Route 287, is regularly flooded out, and in storms with less rain than Irene is packing. The road has been known for flooding, but never on the scales it’s known since 2007. Heaven only knows how long Route 23 is going to be out of commission after Irene is finished with us.

Thanks to Gov. Christie’s courage in ordering the release of the dams, “leaping” will not be the only recourse for residents of Riverdale, Pompton Plains, Pequannock, Lincoln Park, and Wayne in trying to cross Route 23.

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