Report: Storm-Water Plans Leave Towns Vulnerable

When it comes to protecting communities from flooding and erosion, neither the state nor local governments may be up to the task

In a bid to cut government red tape, the state is evaluating whether it needs to oversee New Jersey’s storm-water management rules or instead delegate the task to local communities.

But a report issued by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network concludes that neither the state nor local government is doing its job, putting New Jersey communities at risk of increased flooding, erosion and pollution from storm water that runs into streams and rivers.

The 43-page case study is informative because it represents a detailed examination of one of the many state rules targeted by the Christie administration as redundant and discouraging of economic growth. The environmental organization hired four storm-water experts to review an array of projects in Hamilton Township in Mercer County.

“The results of this review are sobering,” said Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum. “Gov. Christie’s Red Tape Commission has suggested the storm-water rules are a hindrance to the state’s economy and should be relaxed. This report shows that New Jersey communities are being harmed by the failure of communities to properly implement these laws. So rather than relaxing them, we should instead be properly enforcing them,” she said.

John Miller, a storm-water expert with Princeton Hydro, said the review shows that Hamilton Township earned a solid “F” when it came to complying with the law. “And we believe Hamilton is representative of many of the municipalities across the state,” he said.

In each of the projects reviewed, the experts found the township engineer, often with support from land use board engineering consultants, failed to identify multiple omissions, flawed assumptions or miscalculations on the part of the submitting design engineer. In addition, close examination of some of the projects suggests that calculations may have been “massaged” by the project engineer to return favorable results.

Hamilton Township Administrator John Ricci said all but two of the projects reviewed in the case study occurred under the prior administration, before the new mayor took office in January. “We’re trying to comply with the regulations and believe we are doing a better job at it,” Ricci said.

One of the projects reviewed in the case study also was denied by the township, according to Ricci. “I don’t how you can criticize us for something that was denied,” he said.

The report also criticized the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is supposed to oversee local governments’ compliance with the rules and is conducting a pilot program in 27 towns to give greater responsibilities to the local communities.

Larry Hanja, a spokesman for the DEP, said the agency just received the report late last week and is still reviewing it. He said the pilot projects are designed to work with municipalities to provide them with a checklist and certification process for the storm-water rules. “We’re trying to make the process a little bit formalized,” he said.

Instead of expanding the pilot program, van Rossum said the state should work to make sure local governments are complying with the rules and conducting proper reviews of projects that come before them.

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