Flooding in Highlands

Flooding is a serious problem in Highlands.

Highlands resident Derek Gordon street kayaking after this afternoon's storm. Photo credit: Brian Cobb

The center of town, which is both residential and business, is at a lower elevation than the shore line. During a storm, water comes from the Sandy Hook Bay/Shrewsbury River and storm water comes rushing down to the below sea level downtown from “the hill,” the highest elevation on the east coast of the United States which includes parts of Highlands and the Monmouth Hills section of Middletown. During a big storm at high tide and a full moon, downtown Highlands looks like Venice without the charm and romance.

Councilman Chris Francy convinced the rest of the governing body to have T&M Associates, the borough’s engineers, design a flood mitigation system that includes new pumps and pipes to get the water out of town and back into the bay/river.   The project is said to be “shovel ready” and will cost roughly $4 million dollars.  The governing body is applying to FEMA to cover $2.2 million of the cost.  Congressman Frank Pallone is on board to advocate for the project with FEMA.  At a town hall meeting on Monday night, Francy, Pallone and Mayor Frank Nolan said that Highlands is currently number three on FEMA’s list of such projects in New Jersey but that only two will be approved.  Pallone is working to get Highlands bumped up on the list and secure the funding.  That might be good for Highlands and bad for a community along the Passaic River.

The governing body is set to vote on a resolution tonight that will put the project on the ballot in November as a non-binding referendum.  The referendum would ask the voters consent to fund the entire project without FEMA money.

There’s two problems with this scenario.

1) Putting the issue to the voters as a non-binding referendum is a cop out and an act of political cowardice.  The governing body does not legally need the voters consent to approve the proposed project.  If the proposed project is the best and most cost effective solution, the governing body should approve it and get the work started.  The flooding situation has been an issue in every political campaign in memory.  Promises, promises and nothing has happened.  Now finally something is on the verge of happening and the people who ran on the promise to address the issue now want to ask the voters if they are sure?

What if the referendum fails?  Will the political cowards who failed to pull the trigger on the project suddenly get balls and defy the voters?  Or, will Highlands be doomed to another generation underwater.

2) A much bigger problem is that neither the governing body nor the residents know if the proposed $4 million project is the best solution to Highlands’ flooding.

The Army Corp of Engineers has another idea that includes beach berms and bulkheads that would, if it worked, keep the river/bay water from getting into town in the first place.   A few years back, during Anna Little’s term as mayor, the Corp wanted to come into town to evaluate the situation.  The Corp was told, “thanks but no thanks” because property owners on the shore line, lead by Little and Francy, wouldn’t let the engineers on their property to complete the study.

That’s right.  Two elected officials wouldn’t let the Army Corp of Engineers onto their properties to study the feasibility of solving the flooding with beach berms and bulkheads.  “Not in my backyard,” literally and taken to the extreme.

Little is no longer a member of the governing body.  But Francy, who is the prime advocate of the proposed project, has a blatant conflict of interest.   Maybe that is why he wants a referendum.

The Highlands Mayor and Council should slow down and make sure they get this right.  Take another six months or a year and evaluate all options to finally, after generations, mitigate the flooding in Highlands.  Then, they should make the decision themselves without the political cover of a non-binding referendum.

Don’t let the personal agendas of current and former elected officials steer the course to solving a problem as old the borough.

Posted: August 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Army Corp of Engineers, Chris Francy, FEMA, Flooding, Frank Pallone, Highlands | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

12 Comments on “Flooding in Highlands”

  1. Allan Dean said at 10:41 am on August 15th, 2012:

    A well written editorial. As you pointed out, flooding has been a problem in Highlands. generations and politicians pandered to voters in all the time. I agree that the non binding referendum provides political cover for the council members. It seems that two approaches is are being considered. Flood prevention and flood abatement.

  2. allan dean said at 10:51 am on August 15th, 2012:

    (darn voice commands) the council is passing the buck. The u s army corps of engineers has studied this, spend money on this, and still the local government has not acted. It is time for the council to step up and do what they were elected to do. Make the decisions in the best interest of their constituents. I disagree that more steady needs to be done. A lot of money has already been spent to study this. Now is the time to act on the army corp plan.

  3. Art Gallagher said at 10:55 am on August 15th, 2012:

    I’d be in agreement with you Allan if the ACE was ready to go. I think they have to get onto Little and Francy’s property first.

  4. Clam Digger said at 5:07 pm on August 15th, 2012:

    “The Army Corp of Engineers has another idea that includes beach berms and bulkheads that would, if it worked, keep the river/bay water from getting into town in the first place. A few years back, during Anna Little’s term as mayor, the Corp wanted to come into town to evaluate the situation. The Corp was told, “thanks but no thanks” because property owners on the shore line, lead by Little and Francy, wouldn’t let the engineers on their property to complete the study.”

    Thats a bunch of BS, I don’t remember it and Chris said that NEVER happened, where is the smoking gun on this one. Also the current mayor and council has STOPPED the maintenance on the storm sewers, Little had a regular program with DID HELP ALOT. Silt needs to be removed on a regular basis to minimize the buildup in the pipes. Valley street was flooded badly today. Shame on the Mayor since he is the executive and should have these systems maintained, Shame on the Council since they should hold his feet to the fire on this issue.

  5. bull dozer said at 9:22 pm on August 15th, 2012:

    Or spend $4mil to bulldoze the dump at the bottom of the hill, and then all 500 people who live down there can buy up foreclosed houses in Pallone’s dump of a hometown.

  6. Art Gallagher said at 12:53 am on August 16th, 2012:

    Thats a bunch of BS, I don’t remember it and Chris said that NEVER happened, where is the smoking gun on this one

    It did happen. I and others do remember it. The smoking gun should be easy enough to find in the audios if the 2008 and 2009 council meetings.

    Are you sure you want me to go looking? You never know what else I’ll find that you have forgotten.

  7. Joe Killeen said at 1:38 pm on August 16th, 2012:

    Whatever the town decides to do about the issue, short of your neighborly suggestion Bulldozer, I would caution them to think on the additional pressure being put on existing systems and land by the rising sea levels and extreme weather incidents, like this last deluge. The frequency of extreme weather events and the known sea level rise will change a long term existing condition into a more frequent and erratic future set of problems.

  8. bull dozer said at 2:37 pm on August 16th, 2012:

    You don’t like the idea that we just keep pumping tax payer dollars into endless construction and engineering projects to fight nature? There is plenty of empty land and vacant apartments here in New Jersey for the good people of Highlands to live other than below sea level. I don’t have the balls to use my real name to say this, and no elected politician would have to balls to say it either. Let’s just pay up.

  9. Joe Killeen said at 6:17 pm on August 16th, 2012:

    Bull- Don’t have any issue with people who choose to live in a flood zone or those who choose to live in a forest having to deal personally with the issues presented by their choice as well as the political structure that collects their taxes and taxes their dwellings.
    Just think that the shadows that we create to hide among are not the best for civilized communication and discussion of practical life affecting issues. “Shovel Ready” might have been a less unwelcoming moniker to post under.

  10. MoreMonmouthMusings » Blog Archive » Poltical Animals and other musings said at 10:14 pm on August 16th, 2012:

    […] heard the Highlands council did not vote to put the flood mitigation plan on the November ballot as a non-binding referendum and that Councilman Chris Francy did not deny […]

  11. Joe Killeen said at 11:10 am on August 21st, 2012:

    In all the talk and nonsense filling the local blogisphere on this subject, no one I have read or heard has spoken about the cost to the town of Highlands due to the run off from Monmouth Hills, a Monmouth County land mass, and the effect development and property tax revenue for Monmouth County has had on the control of water in the Highlands flood zone.
    Maybe I am wrong but it would seem to me that whatever your political leanings, Republican or Democrat, it would seem fare to ascribe cost where cost comes from.

  12. Art Gallagher said at 11:13 am on August 21st, 2012:


    I agree that the cost should be ascribed where it comes from. The jurisdiction of Monmouth Hills is Middletown, not Monmouth County.