DESCRIPTION: Flooding has long been a problem in the Passaic River Basin. Since colonial times, floods have claimed lives and damaged property. The growth of residential and industrial development in recent years has multiplied the threat of serious damages and loss of life from flooding. More than 2.5 million people live in the basin (2000 census), and about 20,000 homes and places of business lie in the Passaic River floodplain. Since 1900, at least 26 lives have been lost in floods and the total loses are over $5.5 billion dollars. In addition to the flood damages that occur in over thirty-five municipalities in the basin, environmental damage from flooding has also occurred. Significant interruption to businesses and transportation has also resulted in hardship in the basin and region after each flood event.
The most severe flood, the "flood of record," occurred in 1903; and more recent floods in 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, two in 1975, 1984, 1992, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011 were sufficiently devastating to warrant Federal Disaster declarations. The flood of 1984 resulted in the loss of three lives and caused $642 million in damages (October 2006 dollars). Tropical Storm Floyd in September 1999 caused over $261 million in flood damages (October 2006 dollars). The April 2005 flood caused over $100 million dollars in damages in the basin. The April 2007 flood resulted in over 5,000 people being evacuated and caused $686 million (October 2006 dollars) in damages. The recent March 2010 and April 2011 nor’easters and August 2011 tropical storms all caused significant damages to the communities of the Passaic River Basin.
AUTHORIZATION: Prior to this current effort, a study of the Passaic River Basin for the State of New Jersey authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-587). USACE evaluated more than 150 alternatives, in cooperation with the State of New Jersey, municipalities, and local groups, including a full range of non-structural alternatives such as buying out flood prone homes to provide protection on the Mainstem Passaic River and its major basin tributaries. Plans were also developed for several smaller projects on tributaries that are independent from the Main Stem plans and they were advanced as separate projects.
After a series of public hearings, the State selected a dual inlet water diversion tunnel system as the centerpiece of an environmentally sound and a comprehensive flood damage reduction program for the basin. On 8 May 1987, the State formally announced its intention to act as the Passaic River Flood Damage Reduction Project's non-Federal sponsor. USACE recommended the project in its 1988 Report to Congress. Congress authorized construction of the project in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1990 and amended it in WRDA of 1992, WRDA of 1996, and WRDA of 2000.
WRDA 2000, Section 327(i) restricts the use of funds for the design or construction of the “tunnel” plan.
Subsequent legislation authorized a stream bank restoration project (Joseph G. Minish Passaic River Waterfront Park and Historic Area) for the City of Newark, a buyout of the Floodway in the Central Passaic River Basin and further recommended the additional study and implementation of non-structural measures and environmental restoration as companion efforts to the already authorized features.
The major elements of the Mainstem flood damage reduction project are two underground tunnels, a 20.4 mile-long main tunnel 42-foot diameter and a 1.3 mile-long 23-foot diameter spur tunnel. The main tunnel would carry floodwaters from an inlet on the upper Pompton River in Wayne, New Jersey down to an outlet in Newark Bay. The spur tunnel would convey Central Basin floodwaters from an inlet just downstream of Two Bridges in Wayne, New Jersey to an underground connection with the main tunnel. The tunnels would cause minimal disruption to development and the environment along the Pompton River and Passaic River.
Channel modifications would be required to direct the flows into the tunnel inlets; and levees and floodwalls would reduce flood damage in those urban pockets not protected by the tunnel. The project also includes the acquisition of 5,350 acres of natural flood storage areas.
On 23 April 2010, NJ Governor Chris Christie signed an Executive Order creating the Passaic River Flood Advisory Commission, chaired by Commissioner of the NJDEP, Bob Martin. The goal of the 7 member Commission is to identify short and long term recommendations to improve flood mitigation efforts, emergency response planning, and post flood recovery response and efforts; and present the findings to Governor Christie by 31 December 2010. USACE provided input as requested due to our long history with the Passaic River Basin. The Commission published its recommendations in early 2011 and can be found on the NJDEP website: http://www.nj.gov/dep/passaicriver.
One of the recommendations was #13, which recommended that New Jersey submit a reevaluation request to USACE to study and analyze larger potential engineering projects for long-term flood damage reduction. On 31 March 2011, Governor Christie sent a request to then Chief of Engineers, Lieutenant General Robert Van Antwerp to initiate a reevaluation of the authorized Passaic River Basin Project. USACE and NJDEP signed the Project Management Plan (PMP) in April 2012 and executed the Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) on 13 June 2012.
USACE and NJDEP hosted public information sessions to discuss the scope, schedule, and cost of the Passaic River Reevaluation. The first session was held on 11 July 2012 at Pequannock Township High School and the second public session on 13 September 2012 at the Passaic County Public Safety Academy in Wayne, New Jersey.
USACE and NJDEP worked closely to examine a number of flood risk management solutions in the Passaic River Basin, which included:
1. Levee / Floodwall / Nonstructural / Bridge & Dam Modification Alternative
2. Levee / Floodwall / Nonstructural / Channel Modification Alternative
3. Passaic / Pompton River Dual Inlet Diversion Tunnel Alternative
4. Beatties Dam / Two Bridges Improvements – Modifications to Beatties Dam, channel improvements both downstream and upstream (including the Two Bridges Area) will be evaluated.
5. 10 Year Nonstructural – As part of a complete alternatives analysis, a non-structural only alternative was analyzed. This measure examined areas throughout the Passaic Basin and included (but not limited to) flood proofing, elevating structures above the 10 year storm event, buyouts, preservation of open space, etc.
6. No Action Plan – As required by NEPA and other regulations, the No Action Plan was identified and the impacts discussed and analyzed.
In August 2013 (and updated in 2017), the District completed its draft Preliminary Alternative Analysis Report and provided it to the NJDEP.
STATUS: In October 2019, a briefing was held in Wayne, NJ for Rep. Sherrill, Commissioner McCabe and mayors & municipal officials from the basin. The history was presented with the potential options going forward, which includes the need for legislation from Congress for continuation of the tunnel plan. During the briefing, the tunnel plan was overwhelmingly supported as the only comprehensive option.
No further work will be conducted on the study until New Jersey determines what action it would like to pursue. A modification of the authorization would also likely be needed to address the prohibition on use of funds for the tunnel element of the project.
Additional information can be found on the Passaic River Basin General Reevaluation Website. The website includes downloads of the presentations given at the information sessions, maps of the alternatives being considered, frequently asked questions, several prior reports and more:
Mr. Jason Shea
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District
Phone: (917) 790-8727, (917) 273-7286
26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY 10278-0090
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS: NJ-05, NJ-07, NJ-08, NJ-09, NJ-10, NJ-11, NJ-13