By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Residents living on Montclair’s Burnside Street along the Second River have been experiencing flooding problems during heavy rainfalls for years. But they’ve been told by township officials that no action can be taken due to the risk of disturbing groundwater contamination in the area.
On Nov. 30, a heavy rainstorm brought flooding up to Burnside Street residents’ doorsteps. According to the National Weather Service, the Newark area received an inch and a half of rain that day.
After the November flooding, resident Mario Russell told Montclair Local that in addition to property damage, he has lost four cars to different floods over the years.
The town now prepares for heavy rainfall by blocking off the street to vehicular traffic.
Burnside resident Betsy Tessler told the Township Council on Dec. 1 that the street floods every time there are more than a few minutes of steady downpour. Burnside Street is located directly along the Second River, just before it enters Edgemont Park through a culvert and flows into a man-made pond. According to tax records, the homes were built from 1912-1920.
Resident Carson Hall, who moved into his Burnside Street home within the last year, called into the Dec. 15 council meeting asking for the governing body’s commitment to a resolution of the problem after years of dialogue and studies.
At the meeting, Township Manager Tim Stafford said that a recent analysis by engineers determined it would be “unwise to take action at this time, because any action has the potential of affecting contaminants that are being studied by the township’s licensed remedial professional.” He didn’t say specifically when that analysis took place.
The street’s residents however are asking the township to work with them on finding a solution to flooding the problem.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who visited Burnside Street on the night of Nov. 30 and described waves of water crashing on residents’ lawns, said a meeting is planned for next week with Stafford, engineers, Community Services Director Steve Wood, Councilwoman Robin Schlager and himself. He said Schlager has been working on the issue for years.
Not only is much of Burnside Street located within the floodplain associated with the Second River and designated as an area of special flood hazard by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it is also located in a contamination area dating back to 1996 due to a 1,000-gallon leaking underground gasoline storage tank at the township’s water bureau, according to a remedial investigation report dated May 2016 by engineering company Gannett Fleming.
During the tank removal in 1996, evidence of contamination and petroleum odors were present in the excavation.
“The soil contamination appeared to be from a 1,000-gallon leaking [underground storage tank] that had been replaced several years earlier,” the report reads. It found groundwater had seeped into the excavation at a depth of 7 feet. It said several phases of site excavation and interim remedial actions had been conducted at the site since 1996 by Viridian Environmental Consultants.
Approximately 45 tons of impacted soil surrounding the tank were removed and disposed of off-site. Post-excavation soil sample results, submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection, showed gasoline constituents, primarily benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, remained above DEP’s impact to groundwater soil cleanup criteria.
Soil and indoor air testing were conducted at 7, 9, 14, 18 and 20 Burnside St. and 62 and 54 Watchung Ave.
Also discovered was an underground tank at 7 Burnside St. that was removed in 2007. In April 2009, 153 tons of impacted soil were removed from both 7 and 9 Burnside, and subsequent soil tests indicated the area’s soil was remediated.
Twenty-nine temporary wells to test groundwater were placed throughout the area, and in 2015, samplings from eight exceeded federal Environment Protection Agency standards. Samples from three permanent wells around the water bureau did not exceed standards, while samplings from one at 7 Burnside did, according to the report.
According to Stafford, groundwater is still being monitored. An Open Public Records Request for those reports sent April 1 had not been answered by press time.
In 2007, the township commissioned a flooding study of the area near Burnside Street, which confirmed the flooding problems along the street.
The 2007 report, compiled by engineering firm Keller and Kirkpatrick, recommended overhauling the area’s drainage system and floodgate, including cleaning and desnagging the culvert that runs between Burnside Street and Edgemont Park, lowering the water level in Edgemont Pond by 7 inches, to its original depth, and conducting inspections of the drainage system.
Another recommended solution was to run a bypass pipe along Watchung Avenue and Valley Road into the spillway in Edgemont Pond, in order to pipe away stormwater. The report also recommended raising the grade of the roadway, but township officials deemed that option not feasible at the time.
“It should be kept in mind that Burnside Street is located within a bowl-shaped, low-lying area with no natural outlet, and stormwater will temporarily collect or pond in lower elevations,” said a letter sent by township Community Affairs Director Wood to then-Township Manager Joseph Hartnett.
Residents told Montclair Local that little in the way of lasting solutions, aside from lowering the pond level and clearing the culvert, has been done since 2007.
After the 2018 flood, the residents hired, at their own expense, Dynamic Engineering Consultants PC to do a survey and analysis. The engineer confirmed all of the findings from the 2007 report and seconded many of that report’s recommendations, such as a bypass from Burnside to the park by way of Watchung Avenue and Valley Road.
Although Schlager said she knows the history of the problems in the area, she didn’t have an update on what she termed a complicated issue, but is expecting to learn more at the meeting, planned for April 13.
The 2016 report by Gannett Fleming did not specifically address flood remediation or soil disturbances. It said only that the groundwater remedial investigation was deemed complete and “is sufficient to facilitate the selection of remedial alternatives and support future remedial design.”