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Passaic River Basin - FAQs

Passaic Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a handful of frequently asked questions, with corresponding answers, regarding the ongoing Passaic River Basin Flood Risk Management General Re-evaluation Study.

Q. Why are you doing a Re-evaluation?
Q. What was actually authorized for design and construction?
Q. What happened to the project? Why hasn’t the Corps constructed the authorized plan?
Q. Why can’t the Corps do something in the Passaic River Basin on its own?
Q. What does the Re-evaluation include and how long will it take?
Q. What alternatives are being considered and why?
Q. Why aren’t you considering reservoirs and reservoir management?
Q. Why aren’t you considering dredging the River?
Q. What can be done in the short-term?

 

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Q. Why are you doing a Re-evaluation?

A. In 1976, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to take a comprehensive look at the Passaic River Basin.  Over 150 alternatives were considered including buyouts, floodproofing, dam and bridge modification, channel modification, levees, floodwalls, reservoirs, aquifer recharge, tunnels, tidal barriers and combinations of the above. 

The 1987 Passaic River General Design Memorandum (GDM) and its appendices lay out all of the alternatives and the formulation process leading up to the recommended plan.   The 1987 GDM recommended alternative 30E, the Pompton Dual-Inlet Tunnel Alternative.  The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1990 authorized the recommended plan with the following changes: extend the main diversion tunnel 6.5 miles to outlet in Newark Bay, eliminate the 9 levee systems in Bergen, East Essex and Passaic Counties associated with the Third River tunnel outlet and no dikes or levees shall be constructed along the Passaic River in Bergen County. 

In 1996, the State of New Jersey withdrew support of the authorized project and the project was stopped.  In 2011, the Governor’s Passaic River Flood Advisory Commission recommended the State and the Corps re-evaluate the Passaic River Basin to see what options would work today. The Governor of New Jersey sent a request to the Chief of Engineers in March 2011 to begin the Re-evaluation.  A Project Management Plan was drafted with the State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and signed in April 2012.  The Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) was executed between the USACE and NJDEP on 13 June 2012 which officially began the Re-evaluation.   

 

Q. What was actually authorized for design and construction?

A. WRDA 1990 Section 101 (a) (18):

Passaic river main stem, new jersey and new york. --

(A) Flood control elements. --

(i) In general. --The project for flood control, Passaic River Main Stem, New Jersey and New York: Report of the Chief of Engineers, dated February 3, 1989, except that the main diversion tunnel shall be extended to include the outlet to Newark Bay, New Jersey, at a total cost of $1,200,000,000, with an estimated first Federal cost of $890,000,000 and an estimated first non –Federal cost of $310,000,000.

(ii) Design and construction.--The Secretary shall design and construct the project in accordance with the

Newark Bay tunnel outlet alternative described in the Phase I General Design Memorandum of the District Engineer, dated December 1987. The main diversion tunnel shall be extended approximately 6 1/2 miles to outlet in Newark Bay, the 9 levee systems in Bergen, East Essex, and Passaic Counties which were associated with the eliminated Third River tunnel outlet shall be excluded from the project, and no dikes or levees shall be constructed along the Passaic River in Bergen County in connection with the project. With respect to the Newark Bay tunnel outlet project, all acquisition, use, condemnation, or requirement for parklands or properties in connection with the excluded 9 levee systems and the eliminated Third River tunnel outlet works, and any other acquisition, use or condemnation, or requirement for parkland or properties in Bergen County in connection with the project, is prohibited. The Secretary shall certify to the Committee on Public Works and Transportation of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Environment and Public Works of the Senate that no detrimental flood impact will accrue in Bergen County as a result of the project.

(iii) Applicability of cost sharing.--Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, the total project, including the extension to Newark Bay, shall be subject to cost sharing in accordance with section 103 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986.

(iv) Operation and maintenance. --The non-Federal sponsor shall maintain and operate the project after its completion in accordance with the regulations prescribed by the Secretary; except that the Secretary shall perform all measures to ensure integrity of the tunnel, including staffing of operation centers, cleaning and periodically inspecting the tunnel structure, and testing and assuring the effectiveness of mechanical equipment at gated structures and pump stations.

(v) Credit for non -federal work.--In recognition of the State of New Jersey's commitment to the project on June 28, 1984, all work completed after such date by the State or other non -Federal interests which is either compatible with or complementary to the project shall be considered as part of the project and shall be credited by the Secretary toward the non -Federal share of the cost of the project. Such work shall include, but not be limited to, those activities specified in the letter of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, dated December 9, 1988, to the Office of the Chief of Engineers.

However, only the portion of such work that meets the guidelines established under section 104 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 shall be considered as project costs for economic purposes. In applying such section 104 to the project, the Secretary shall likewise consider work carried out by non-Federal interests after June 28, 1984, and before the date of the enactment of this Act that otherwise meets the requirements of such section 104.

(B) Streambank restoration measures. --The project shall include the construction of environmental and other streambank restoration measures (including bulkheads, recreation, greenbelt, and scenic overlook facilities) on the west bank of the Passaic River between Bridge and Jackson Streets in the city of Newark, New Jersey, at a total cost of $6,000,000. The non-Federal share of the project element authorized by this subparagraph shall be 25 percent. The value of the lands, easements, and rights -of-way provided by non-Federal interests shall be credited to the non-Federal share. Construction of the project element authorized by this subparagraph may be undertaken in advance of the other project features and shall not await implementation of the overall project.

 

Q. What happened to the project? Why hasn’t the Corps constructed the authorized plan?

A. Following the WRDA 1990 authorization, detailed design of the authorized project began to get ready for construction.  In 1994, the Governor of New Jersey sent a letter to the Chief of Engineers requesting the Corps evaluate a full buyout option up to a 100 year flood event.  In 1995, the Corps of Engineers released two reports: September 1995 Passaic River Buyout Study (100 year) with a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) of 0.1 and October 1995 Passaic River Floodway Buyout Study with a BCR of 0.2. What that means, is that for each dollar spent on the buyouts, only 10 cents and 20 cents were received in benefits.

In 1996, the State of New Jersey withdrew support of the authorized project (which was 30E, the dual-inlet tunnel alternative).  The detailed design General Design Memorandums dated 1995 remains draft.  Without a non-Federal sponsor, the project was stopped.  The Corps has not done any work on the Passaic River Mainstem since the project was stopped in 1995, 16 years ago.  The Corps has provided technical support where possible by attending local flood board meetings, Task Force meetings and providing support to the Governor’s Flood Advisory Commission in 2010. 

 

Q. Why can’t the Corps do something in the Passaic River Basin on its own?

A. The Corps of Engineers requires three things to participate in a Flood Risk Management Study/Project:

               1. Authority from Congress

               2. Federal Appropriation (funding)

               3. A non-Federal cost sharing partner - defined by the Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) for Studies, a Design Agreement (DA) for design and a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) for construction.

The Corps of Engineers cannot proceed with a study, design or construction without all of the above.

 

Q. What does the Re-evaluation include and how long will it take?

A. The goal of the Conceptual Phase (CP) of the Re-evaluation is to give the State the opportunity to determine which of the six alternative(s) on which to proceed further on the basis of conceptual costs, economics, environmental requirements and public input.

The CP will utilize all existing information from previous reports and other Federal, State and non-Governmental Organizations.  FEMA HMS models have been received through the State, as well as several sub-watershed FEMA HEC-RAS models.  The 1990s UNET model from the previous study has been converted to HEC-RAS to supplement the FEMA models to update the floodplain. Each alternative will be modeled to calculate the reduction in water surface elevations and costs updated to reflect updated construction technology and USACE post-Katrina levee/floodwall guidance. 

An economic screening of each alternative will compare the damages prevented (benefits) with the cost.  Threatened or endangered species, known historic resources and potential wetland and riverine habitats will be identified.  Detailed graphics will be developed to show communities what each of the alternatives will look like in their communities. 

The CP officially began on 13 June 2012 when the FCSA was executed.  A draft Conceptual Phase Report has been completed and public information sessions hosted by USACE and NJDEP will be scheduled in spring 2014 to discuss the findings of the report and the next steps for Phase 2 of the ongoing study evaluating a comprehensive solution to flood risk management in the Passaic River Basin. 

 

Q. What alternatives are being considered and why?

A. The Corps worked closely with the State and the recommendations made by the Governor’s Flood Advisory Commission to narrow down the possible alternatives for the Re-evaluation.  It’s not possible to relook at all 150 alternatives or even 50 and get updated information out in a year.  The CP is considering six (6) alternatives:

               1. A comprehensive system of levees, floodwalls, nonstructural measures and some bridge and dam modification.  This alternative, known as 14A from the 1987 GDM, was shown to have a positive benefit in the previous report.

               2. A comprehensive system of levees, floodwalls, nonstructural measures, channel modification and some bridge and dam modification.  This alternative, known as 16A from the 1987 GDM, was shown to have a positive benefit in the previous report.

               3. Pompton Dual-Inlet Tunnel (Alternative 30E from 1987 GDM, as amended by WRDA 1990), or the Newark Bay Outlet Tunnel Plan. The Corps is required to look at this alternative because it is a Re-evaluation of the previous study.  Alternative 30E was the selected plan from 1987 and authorized by Congress in 1990. 30E was modified based on the changes directed by WRDA 1990 and detailed design work following the authorization. These changes included the tunnel plan incorporated outlet of floodwaters into Newark Bay, which was not part of the original alternative.  The Re-evaluation is using the most updated plan, incorporating these changes as outlined in the 1995 draft Passaic River General Design Memorandum.

               4. Improvements to Beatties Dam and Two Bridges.  The Governor’s Flood Advisory Commission strongly recommended a new alternative that considered improvements to the Beatties Dam and Two Bridges area.  The CP will evaluate removing a portion or all of Beatties Dam, placing gates on Beatties Dam, a weir or structure near the confluence of the Pompton and Passaic Rivers to regulate the flow, channel modification and/or a reservoir in the Two Bridges area.

               5. Non-structural Plan

               6. No Action

Both 5 and 6 are required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).   

 

Q. Why aren’t you considering reservoirs and reservoir management?

A. A reservoir may be considered as part of the Beatties Dam and Two Bridges alternative.  The 1987 GDM, Plan Formulation Appendix C, investigated a number of locations within each sub-basin for the creation or expansion of reservoirs.  It was found there were minimal beneficial effects on downstream damage areas.  The purpose of the existing reservoirs is for Water Supply and those reservoirs are owned and operated by entities other than the Corps of Engineers.  The Corps only has authority over its own reservoirs, of which there are none in the Passaic River Basin.  

 

Q. Why aren’t you considering dredging the River?

A. The Re-evaluation is focused on finding comprehensive solutions to reducing flood risk in the Passaic River Basin.  Two of the alternatives include channel modification.  Channel modification means changing the cross section (widening and deepening) of the River so that it can convey a larger amount of water.  The bottom of the channel is usually natural for the environment and the sides can be stabilized in a variety of ways: concrete, gabion baskets, geotech walls, etc.  Modifying the channel is a costly alternative that includes high maintenance costs and must consider environmental impacts.  Simply dredging the river, without engineering a new channel cross section, would have a limited impact and may negatively impact downstream communities.   The Governor’s Flood Advisory Commission does not support major channelization of the Basin. 

 

Q. What can be done in the short-term?

A. The Re-evaluation is focused on finding a comprehensive Basin wide approach to reduce the risk within the Basin which will be a long-term solution. The Corps of Engineers will continue to support and share technical knowledge with communities that are moving forward with smaller projects to reduce the risk in their community. 

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If you'd like to be added to the Passaic River Basin's General Re-evaluation Study's e-mail list for occasional e-mails regarding the study, please e-mail that Passaic_Study@usace.army.mil address and clearly note in the message that you'd like to be added to the list.