LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Flooding Concerns with Heavy Rain, But NJ Still in Drought

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

I’m standing in the Passaic River, but it’s also the outfield for Long Hill’s Little League baseball park. Now when the river rises, it can make it all the way to second base, when you will find fish on the field.

“When the ball field gets it, we know we’re in trouble. Because there’ll be ducks floating in the outfield. Literally,” said Mary Anne DeFinis.

But DeFinis isn’t amused. The Passaic River’s flooded her Laurel Avenue home in Long Hill four or five times over the past quarter century. And with the river running high after weekend rains, she said, “Everybody’s fearful. Especially because when I see that river, I see it’s high, I know any more rain and that river could crest. That means that tributary is going to spill over because it has nowhere to go.”

Fortunately for Long Hill and the rest of New Jersey, heavy rains forecast for today didn’t show up, canceling flood watches across 13 northern counties, although water covered some local streets for the morning rush.

“We are on the edge of the Great Swamp. We have a history of floods during March and April, like many communities in New Jersey,” said Shayne Daly.

“I’m not worried about what’s going to happen this week. This is relatively minor compared to what has happened in the past,” said Long Hill Township Committee Member Guy Piserchia.

Long Hill officials say the ground’s super saturated and more rain’s in the forecast for Thursday. But across New Jersey, where streams and rivers like the Passaic, the Rockaway and the Millstone rise, so do anxieties.

“What we’re doing now is monitoring the weather towards Thursday where we expect to get some increased rain, thunderstorms that potentially may create that flood watch, that could get re-activated. That’s what our eyes are on, now,” said Morris County Office of Emergency Management Director Jeff Paul.

And believe it or not all this rain still hasn’t broken New Jersey’s drought problem, but it’s helped.

“This rainfall we’ve had the last two weeks has been liquid gold,” said State Climatologist David Robinson. “So perhaps with this rain of late it’s a sign of better things to come as we enter this warm season.”

Bad news? Places like Long Hill — stuck between a river and a large swamp — remain vulnerable. The town bought out and razed seven of 12 flood-prone homes. But residents balked at building a flood wall here, despite memorable bad experiences like Hurricane Irene.

“It came to the back of my deck. It looked like we were living on a lake. That was the scariest one I’ve ever seen,” DeFinis said.

The Passaic’s expected to crest at 7.8 feet Thursday. Flood stage is eight feet.