By Charles Layton
Could the Broadway drainage project turn out a failure?
That’s what worried large numbers of Ocean Grovers at Monday night’s Township Committee meeting.
Although this $1 million construction project has plowed up large portions of Broadway, closed the street to traffic for much of the summer and brought noise, trash, dirt and anxiety to residents, many said that, after all that hassle, they doubted the project would fix their perennial flooding problem.
As one resident after another paraded to the microphone to question and complain, it became clear that a major factual disagreement existed between the Township officials and some of those residents.
Township officials contend that the main cause of the August 15 flash flood and a lesser but still significant flash flood on Monday was a partial blockage at Broadway and Central — a blockage that, once corrected, will no longer impede storm water flowing toward outlets at Fletcher Lake.
Some residents weren’t buying that story. They said the problem isn’t a temporary, rectifiable choke point at the Central Avenue intersection; rather, it’s that the entire recently-installed system of underground drainage pipes is too small to handle runoff from a normal summer rain.
Francis Paladino, who lives at 69½ Broadway and is chairman of the OG Sewerage Authority and a former president of the OG Home Owners Association, said that on Monday the water was 18 inches deep along his curb. He said from his own observation of the two recent floods he had concluded that the drainpipes newly installed along the length of Broadway were simply too small, and that this was why the street continued to flood.
“We’d better take a look and go back to the drawing board,” he told the Committee.
Allan Ellgren, who lives at 55 Broadway, told the Committee that he felt “the project is not going to work.” In fact, he said, since the Township began installing the new system, the flooding problem has grown worse.
“I wanted to sell my house. I took it off the market,” he said. “I can’t sell my house without telling the prospective buyer that there’s a flooding problem.”
Eric Tellefsen, owner of The Sea Spray, a B&B at Beach Avenue and Broadway, said “there’s probably five times the volume of water coming down Beach than has ever been seen before.” He said his and his wife’s downstairs living quarters had been flooded repeatedly this year and “we can no longer live there.”
Marilyn Laverty, who has resided on Broadway for nine years, said the recent flooding was “directly related to this project… We’ve had rains as heavy in the past, with less flooding.”
Leanne Hoffmann, Neptune’s director of engineering and planning, said the work at Beach Avenue “isn’t complete yet.” The solution to Tellefsen’s problem, she said, will be the addition of two more grates on Beach, which should be installed by the end of September.
Hoffmann and Township engineer Peter Avakian both said another major remaining task is to replace the old box culvert underneath Broadway at Central. This culvert unexpectedly collapsed on Tuesday of last week, and it was this, Avakian said, that had caused water to back up all down the street. It will take approximately two weeks before the contractor can begin replacing that compromised culvert, Hoffmann said.
Paladino maintained that these fixes won’t solve the problem. Although broken, the old box culvert was carrying all the water that flowed into it on Monday, he said, and in fact it was only “running about half full” because that was all the water the upstream pipes could deliver to it. He said he had personally witnessed this.
Even though Township officials predicted that things would soon be better, they did appear to be scaling back expectations of how well the new system will perform. Whereas Paladino, who has followed the project since its inception, maintained that its original goal “was to eliminate the flooding on Broadway,” Avakian said the system “won’t take all the water” that flows down Broadway. The project will only be able to handle “a two-, five-, ten-, up to a 25-year storm,” he said. Officials said both this week’s and last week’s rains qualified as 25-year storms.
(It is, in fact, possible to have two 25-year rainstorms in the space of a few days; technically, this term means that every year there is a 1-in-25 chance of one of those storms occurring. However, Paladino and Ellgren contended that the two recent cloudbursts were normal summer rains.)
One of the reasons more runoff seems to be pouring down to Broadway these days is that a previous outlet, which took water from Main Avenue beneath the boardwalk and into the ocean, has been eliminated. The water that used to take that route to the ocean now flows south from Main toward Broadway.
Several residents wondered whether the Township intended, once the project is completed, to restore Broadway from its current trashed-up condition to its former beauty as one of Ocean Grove’s showplace boulevards. Mayor Randy Bishop promised that this would be done.