By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Montclair is looking into new technology to take care of the contamination around the township’s water bureau without disturbing the soil, but the project could take up to three years.

The township will then have to decide on how to proceed on flooding issues that have plagued the neighboring Burnside Street area, which acts like a bathtub — pushing water up to doorsteps during heavy rainfalls. 

Much of Burnside Street is located within a floodplain associated with the Second River or Toney’s Brook 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 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. 

After years of flooding, most recently in November, when water came up to residents’ doorsteps, township officials told residents in December that no action on flood remediation could be taken due to the risk of disturbing groundwater contamination in the area.

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The storm in November only consisted of an inch and a half of rain that day. Over the years, residents have lost vehicles, and the township now prepares for heavy rainfalls by cordoning off the street to vehicular traffic.

A township-commissioned 2007 report on the flooding in the area, 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 and lowering the water level in Edgemont Pond by 7 inches. 

Another recommended solution, although costly, was to run a bypass pipe along Watchung Avenue and Valley Road into the spillway in Edgemont Pond, 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. 

Township employees, officials and engineers met with residents last week to discuss both flood  and contamination remediation through electrical resistance heating, presented by engineers and township consultants Gannett-Flemming. First used in the 1990s, the technology is now recognized as a cost-effective remediation technology that doesn’t require excavation. 

It heats the subsurface to the boiling point of water by passing electrical current through contaminated soil and groundwater. The heating evaporates volatile contaminants, and steam strips them from the subsurface. Vapors and steam are then recovered and treated, according to a report by Jerry Wolf, founder and vice president of Emerging Markets for Thermal Remediation Services.

During the removal of the 1,000-gallon tank at the water bureau in 1996, the tank was found to be leaking. Since that time, several phases of site excavation and remedial actions, including the removal of 45 tons of soil, have been conducted by Viridian Environmental Consultants, according to a report by Gannett-Flemming in 2016.

Post-excavation soil sample results, submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection, showed gasoline constituents, primarily benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, remained above DEP’s impact to groundwater soil cleanup criteria. The township has been given until May 2024 — extended from a 2023 deadline due to the pandemic — to remediate the site, according to Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who put together the meeting. 

The township has set aside $500,000 in this year’s budget for Gannett-Flemming’s plan to use the electrical resistance heating technology for the site, which needs DEP approval, Yacobellis said. He said with plan implementation, DEP approval and bidding the remediation work could begin in as soon as nine months.

Burnside Street is located directly along the Second River, just before it enters Edgemont Park through a culvert and flows into the man-made pond. According to tax records, the homes were built from 1912 to 1920. At the bottom of the hill on Burnside are two storm drains that flow into culverts into Toney’s Brook that end at Edgemont Pond. One of the drains contains a backflow preventer or flood gate that is stuck in the open position. As the gate is supposed to close in case of overflow, residents would like to see it put back into commission, said Burnside resident Eric Zaltas. But Yacobelis said that township sewer officials said the gate being open is better for the flooding situation. He said that repair would cost about $20,000.

Residents would also like to see a wall along Toney’s Brook repaired. The wall, hit by a truck some years ago, according to Zaltas, now can’t contain the brook overflow in case of heavy rains, and the brook cascades over parts of the wall and into the street.

Yacobellis said the township is considering dredging Edgemont Pond next year, which would allow for its water level to be lowered and therefore able to take in more water from heavy rains. The pond was last dredged about 12 years ago at a cost of about $1 million. That too would mean DEP involvement, as the sludge and debris would contain contaminants from roadways and need to be carted off. 

As for the future on the flooding mitigation, Yacobellis said that remains to be seen. The cost to rehabilitate the existing system in 2007 was about $50,000. The cost then to replace and reroute the piping and flood gate, along with streetscaping, was $320,000, but those costs have risen significantly, he said. 

In the meantime Yacobellis said the contamination is not at dangerous levels, and that the Department of Community Services will be monitoring for heavy rainfalls and respond to the street to clear out the drains and block off the streets.