Hackensack Flood Policy: Hurricane Sandy  and/or its predecessor Irene  wreaked havoc and destruction along the New Jersey coast but also and importantly up through Bergen County from top to bottom. Sandy’s storm surge pushed into Newark Bay and up the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, flooding towns well inland. Once the storm ended and the waters receded, recovery efforts began. Bergen Grassroots surveyed the landscape and noted the lack of a strong, common effort to provide aid for cleanup and restoration, as well as a clear context for debate about regional planning on how to prevent or at least minimize the effects of future storms. So Bergen Grassroots stepped up to try to start an encompassing dialog to address these issues beginning at its August 1, 2013 meeting where the agenda included presenters with diverse views drawn from the ranks of mayors of most affected communities, researchers from the Meadowlands Commission, County Emergency management officials, the Hackensack Riverkeeper and an actively involved Freeholder (see Teaneck Patch story on this web site at http://teaneck.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/bergen-grassroots-creates-task-force-to-prevent-future-storms. Attendants at that meeting were encouraged to sign up for participation in a new BGR task force on the topic and that task force (which now involves participants from BGR, diverse other community and greenway organizations, the Riverkeeper, 3 municipal mayors, the new County flood co-ordinator, and freeholder representatives). The Task Force has unanimously adopted the following statement of its scope – and that statement has subsequently been endorsed by the BGR steering committee:
Scope: The Bergen Grassroots Task Force on Flooding
The Challenge: Hurricanes Sandy and Irene have brought flooding events into sharp focus for Bergen County. Predictions that the coastal and river systems of the US east coast can expect flood producing storms of the same or increased intensity for the foreseeable future are stabilizing. Therefore the public and private entities responsible for the health and safety of Bergen County residents must develop and execute well-planned, anticipatory, resilient and cost-efficient actions and policies effectively to respond to and to manage the complex Hackensack River system before and during these flood events. These actions and policies involve both short-term system-wide activities to better manage river flow and longer term the consistent, equitable support of well-selected mitigation measures and of the use of adjacent land.
What: The task force will provide independent, non-partisan and technically-sound advice and advocacy for actions, policies and resources that will improve regional management of the Hackensack River system (top-to-bottom) before, during and after significant flooding events and thereby better protect the health and welfare of Bergen County residents and their resources.
Who: Membership of the task force is drawn from Bergen Grassroots and other Bergen County residents as well as municipal and county public officials and policy makers responsible for the factors which protect river-related public health and welfare.
How: Task Force members will: 1) develop the knowledge and gain access to the evolving work of river system experts and committees, 2) provide a forum for public discussion of the information and options identified, 3) forge its own perspectives on how and when specific regional entities should take action or seek mitigation resources and 4) regularly make reports and recommendations to Bergen Grassroots, to the public and to the entities it identifies as best positioned to take the most effective and efficient flood-management actions.
When: The task force has no planned sunset. The studies and data to achieve many of the Task Force’s purposes are only now being developed. The challenges and choices that will be required to achieve these river management goals will confront public and private decision makers for at least a decade and thus will not ebb and flow with electoral cycles. The task force is intended to remain a vibrant player shaping these policies until its independent role can be better addressed by some other evolved entity or the threat of dangerous and inequitable flood impacts are under control.
After consultation with Flooding Task Force members, BGR’s Steering Committee supported Public Question 1 on the November 5, 2013 ballot which allows County officials to include funding in its use of Open Space funds Blue Acres projects — projects to purchase flood-prone or stricken property and return the property either to a natural state or to use for conservation and recreation purposes. The measure passed by nearly 2-1 (64+%). This Task Force now meets regularly and is slowly evolving and approach to evaluate and advocate comprehensive sound river maintenance and flooding mitigation policies.
Flood Policy in BGR’s future: as clearly stated in this scope statement, BGR is committed to a long-term effort to improve debate and implementation of effective and equitable Hackensack flood policy. And the reports of the new task force are to be made to BGR monthly meetings. A major challenge will be to keep the involvement of not just the three current municipalities from the bottom, middle and top of the Hackensack but to engage as well other municipalities in finding regionally effective solutions and mutual support in implementing them.