When the government says "tough luck" to one Vernon property owner,
all Vernon residents should take notice.
A Creek Shouldn't Run Through It
Around 1985-86,as a result of excavating/dredging which took place on a Rt. 94 property in the center of McAfee, the flow of the Black Creek was blocked by a manmade dam.
Since that time, the water which streams down Hamburg Mountain into the Black Creek no longer flows under the railroad tracks and on down the Rt. 94 side of the tracks in McAfee.
The creek no longer flows to the 6 ft.-wide bridge beneath Old Rudetown Road.
Instead, the water backs up behind Colonial Plaza and reverses to flood the other side of the railroad tracks.
After every rainstorm, a tremendous volume of water swamps the Hamburg Mountain side of the tracks. A small culvert, never meant to handle much more than a trickle of farmland runoff, is quickly clogged by debris.
The above left photo shows the county-installed bridge (it crosses under Old Rudetown Road on the Rt. 94 side of the railroad tracks) through which the Black Creek is supposed to flow.
No water flows through it now.
The photo on the right shows the floodwater at the 2-ft.-wide culvert on the other side of the tracks.
Water aplenty - where it shouldn't be.
Both photos were taken on July 7, 2000.
The culvert (a Vernon Twp. drainage structure, btw) is completely overwhelmed after every rainstorm and, to make matters worse, the water is further backed up at a similarly small culvert down near the George Inn.
The backed-up water floods nearby businesses and homes which existed long before the surrounding dry land was transformed into manmade "wetlands." How come nothing has ever been done to correct the problem?
Therein lies a tale that Franz Kafka fans will appreciate...
The Colonial Plaza developers had nothing to do with it. They had purchased part of the land from a corporation (principals: the late Leon Drew plus the law firm of Hornig,Leonard & Bush) that owned the property.
Back when the fateful work was being performed, the property's corporate owners claimed they had permission to do what they did. The state said they didn't.
So, a New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection official eventually came, saw, and did nothing.
Finally, in response to appeals from Dan Borstad (whose property on Old Rudetown Road bears the brunt of the flooding), then-Vernon Township engineer Jim Rodger and then-Township attorney William Fitzgibbons sought guidance from the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection in Trenton.
NJDEP said that blocking the original flow of the creek was indeed "a mistake."
To remedy the mistake, said DEP, Vernon Township would have to order up the required study so that permits to remedy the situation could be issued. The cost of the study was estimated at $12,000.
The township government, despite its awareness of the "mistake" all along, would not - and will not, to this day - spend the money.
Part of McAfee has now become a flood plane of the Black Creek. What was once dry land has become an overgrown swamp, the roadsides often awash in muddy water extending halfway up Old Rudetown Road.
And each time the water overflows, property is damaged. The parking lot at Borstad's building has been ruined and the building's ground floor has been water-damaged many times over.
Tele-Tech Services, an upscale firm which had offices in Borstad's building on Old Rudetown Road, decided to relocate. Dan Borstad believes that the flooding was a contributing factor in his tenant's decision to leave.
Flooding has elevated the water table on the Hamburg Mountain side of the tracks to the extent that septic systems have to be pumped six or seven times a year, Borstad said.
He also noted that, on the other side of the tracks, groundwater levels decreased. He knew of one homeowner on Rt. 94 who had to dig a deeper well.
After every rainstorm, township road crews have to unclog the culvert and clear away the debris from the affected area - to say nothing of the tasks they face in winter, when the floodwaters at Rudetown Road ice over.
The labor cost to the township has been - and will continue to be - enormous.
An injury to one Vernon taxpayer has become an injury to all Vernon taxpayers.
When asked if he ever considered suing the town, Borstad - who served on the oldtime Township Committee and who has been a prominent public figure in Sussex County since anyone can remember - replied that, as a taxpayer, "suing your town is like suing yourself."
Moreover, during his term of office as a Township Committee member he did not pursue the matter lest it be perceived as a conflict of interest.
Ironically, Borstad's integrity and restraint put him at a disadvantage - while he held office, his fellow town officials were free to disregard the Black Creek flooding condition in McAfee.
In the years since he left office, successive Vernon administrations have all folded their arms at the idea of spending 12K for the requisite DEP study.
The current town administration has responded to Borstad's ongoing appeal by - you guessed it - saying they wouldn't pay for the study. They did say, however, that when Crystal Springs builds its new golf course (i.e., the one which will overlap from Hardyston to Vernon), steps might have to be taken to prevent even more flooding in that area alongside Route 94 in McAfee.
But it could be several years before that golf course is built.
Arguably, it was unreasonable of the NJDEP to insist on a study before any remedial work could be undertaken. Borstad provided them with before-and-after aerial photographic maps of McAfee which clearly show the impact of the manmade damming on the Black Creek - i.e., first the creek is on one side of the tracks, then it's on the other side.
The solution , said Fitzgibbons, was simple: block the water from flowing on the wrong side.
But the fact is that NJDEP calls the shots in these matters, and by now the township should have found a way to budget for the DEP-required study. For instance, the town might have arranged for the $12,000. fee to be paid over a three-year schedule. Relative to the host of other township-ordered studies and consultant expenses, $3300. a year (or all $12,000 at once, for that matter) does not seem like an excessive expense.
Recently, a beaver began construction of a dam halfway down the Black Creek where it runs on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. "There," Borstad joked, pointing out the industrious dam-builder, "You see my only helper."
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