Downtown Jersey City residents are blaming the city’s antiquated sewer system for the flooding in their homes after last weekend’s nor’easter.
The National Weather Service reported that 7.5 inches of rain fell last Sunday alone in the New York City area.
Downtown residents endured not only stormwater seeping into their homes, but also sewage.
They claim that the 100-year-old combined sewer system that runs through most of Jersey City is problematic. A “combined sewer system” means that both wastewater and storm water flow through the same pipes.
Some residents demanded that the system be upgraded soon, before the next major rainstorm hits.
Christine Mittman, who co-owns with her husband an old row house on Sussex Street, took pictures of nearby flooded blocks and homes.
She is organizing a meeting with Downtown residents and the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA), which maintains the city’s sewer system, to call for a new sewer system with separate pipes for sewage and storm water.
“The city has to be reasonable and start thinking about improving the sewer system for its citizens,” Mittman said. “This is one of the few cities that still has a combined sewer system.”
Joining Mittman in her mission is City Councilman Steven Fulop, who represents the Downtown area. Fulop said that his dwelling had no water damage because it’s on the top floor of a brownstone. But he said several of his constituents were not so fortunate. He has been receiving photos and paperwork documenting their problems.
He said he plans to bring up the issue at this Monday’s City Council caucus.
“Mayor [Jerramiah] Healy talks about Jersey City being a world-class city; yet there’s crap floating in people’s basements,” Fulop said.
Healy did not respond by press time to questions about the city’s future plans to deal with flooding.Not a new problem
This isn’t the first time Mittman has pursued a sewer system upgrade. She organized two meetings between residents and MUA representatives last year to arrive at a solution.
The dialogue didn’t go far.
There was low turnout at the meetings. Mittman also said there was very little respect from the MUA.
“One MUA person said to one of the attendees that they have no business living on the ground floor,” Mittman said. “That’s not what we want to hear. We pay taxes. We pay sewer charges.”
Most of the pipes in the system are made of clay or brick. Newer pipes that connect to the main system are made of reinforced concrete or plastic.
Water that is unable to drain properly backs up, creating the potential for sewage to leak into residences. MUA says money will cause delays
MUA Executive Director Daniel Becht said he understands the complaints, particularly from Downtown residents. He said the MUA is completing a study on improvements to the sewer system but admitted that financial constraints will delay a remedy.
“We are aware of the problems but we have our limitations,” Becht said. “To have a new system with new pipes will cost billions. Right now we are looking for alternate sources of funding since federal grants and municipal funds have dried up.”
Rich Haytas, assistant to the MUA’s Chief Engineer Joseph Beckmeyer, said normally, storm water Downtown would have drained into the Hudson River. But he explained that the unprecedented amount of rain and the high tide added several feet of water to the river. This blocked the storm pipe leading into the river, causing the water to back up.
“Pray it doesn’t rain like this again,” he said. More than just water
One of the Downtown areas the storm hit the hardest was the intersection of Grove and Grand streets.
Catherine Hecht has lived with her partner Beth Achenbach in the basement apartment at 246 Grove St. for the past eight years. Last week’s rainstorm overwhelmed them.
“I got up 3:30 a.m. [Sunday morning] because that’s when it started raining,” Hecht said. “We started bailing water until 4:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon and then we had to get out of here.”
Hecht said the owner of the building had put a French drain in the back yard. A French drain is a ditch filled with gravel that redirects surface and ground water away from an area. They also had a sump pump running and used a wet and dry vacuum to remove water.
It was of little help because they had to contend with the water coming through the building’s foundation and from other locations.
“The building next to us is abandoned, so nobody was pumping water out next door, and it ended up coming through our walls,” Hecht contended.
She said sewage mixed with the water stained the floors and walls. Several essential household items, including their mattress, had to be disposed of, she said.
“I had a special spray that I used to disinfect every place in our apartment [after the storm], and I also scrubbed with bleach,” Hecht said. “But we suffered over $1,000 in storm damage.” Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com