Fed gov’t to Secaucus: Go jump in a lake

Town excluded from $150M for ‘New Meadowlands’ flood relief

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced millions of dollars in funding last week for several local towns that deal with flooding problems, but Secaucus simply ended up all wet.

HUD officials came to Little Ferry, N.J. to announce the winners of President Obama’s “Rebuild by Design” competition, in which teams of engineers submitted plans to deal with flooding issues in various regions. Two of those winners were in New Jersey: the Hoboken/Weehawken/Jersey City area, which got $230 million, and the $150 million “New Meadowlands” region from which Secaucus was ejected at the last minute.

The snubbing of Secaucus was a shock to all involved, including Mayor Michael Gonnelli, who came to the announcement last week expecting good news. The Town Council had worked hard to push the New Meadowlands proposal and make it a reality.

Up until the announcement, Secaucus was considered an integral part of the proposal. The Rebuild by Design website states that, “Within the larger framework of New Meadowlands, we have identified three pilot areas to host the first projects. The northern edge includes sections of Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro, and South Hackensack. The eastern edge…contains Secaucus and a portion of Jersey City. Finally, the southern tip consists of South Kearny and the western waterfront of Jersey City.”

Asked why Secaucus was dumped from the plan, HUD Senior Advisor Scott Davis stated, “The overall proposal as they designed it is for the entire Meadowlands basin area region. And that’s a multi-billion dollar undertaking, to build this out along the whole Meadowlands. So what we’re doing is we’re funding the first pilot area.”

“This will seal off entirely as its own basin,” explained Davis. “And then you can go to the next phase and the next phase and the next phase.”

However, no money has been allocated for future phases. Nor are there any plans to come up with additional funding, according to Davis, who seemed to indicate that Secaucus and any other communities interested in protecting themselves from future storms will have to come up with financing on their own.

“We need additional funding,” stated Amy Chester, the lead project manager for Rebuild by Design. “We have an overall plan for the region and these funds [the $150 million] are going to be for the first part of the plan.”

 “This is a very long-term regional proposal,” Davis said. “It starts in one place and unfortunately [Secaucus] isn’t where it’s starting.”

Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City get $230M

Six projects were approved by HUD for implementation. Four of those projects are in New York, including two in Manhattan. In New Jersey, the New Meadowlands project will be joined by a $230 million project for the Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City area.

Rebuild by Design was launched last summer in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to “develop innovative and implementable solutions to promote resilience in the Sandy-affected region,” according to Dr. Zia Khan, vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which provided primary funding for the competition.

Soliciting proposals for ways to mitigate weather-related problems in the future, the competition received 148 applications from around the world. From this group, 10 interdisciplinary teams were selected to participate in the competition.

The Rebuild by Design team ultimately selected what it considered the 10 most promising plans, with New Meadowlands among them, and Secaucus a critical part of that plan. Intensive research and design sessions then took place, including a key public meeting and brainstorming session in Secaucus.

Then came the announcement on June 2 of the winners, with New Meadowlands approved but Secaucus excluded.

Mayor Gonnelli was furious at the decision, which he called “embarrassing,” saying he felt Secaucus was excluded at least in part because the town took steps to address its own problems immediately after Sandy rather than waiting for the federal government to bail them out.

“We flooded worse than anybody but we took care of ourselves” by building berms and instituting other flood mitigation, said Gonnelli, although those projects are only a first step toward addressing the larger issue of storm protection.

Gonnelli has vowed to contest the decision on behalf of Secaucus.

The exclusion of Secaucus was so confusing that the Rebuild by Design team actually congratulated Gonnelli on winning the competition when he arrived at the press conference on June 2.


Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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