Friday, September 2, 2011

Lambertville residents wonder if flood surge during hurricane was man-made disaster

By Charlie Sahner

Rumors were swirling in Lambertville today like the muddy waters of the Delaware River. The question on everyone's mind: was a "wall of water" which struck several streets there during the height of Hurricane Irene caused or exacerbated by a release of water at a reservoir overlooking the city?

While Lambertville received an unprecedented amount of rainfall during Hurricane Irene, with flash flooding heavy there, multiple accounts from residents living on Ferry, Swan, South Union and North Franklin streets point to an as of yet unexplained incident that occurred early Sunday morning.

Said one Swan Street resident, "It was 12:40 a.m. and I heard my sump pump turn on. I went down to the basement, and a window blew out and water rushed in. I ran for my car, but it was already half under water. Ten minutes later the water began receding."

A long-time resident of North Franklin Street who asked not to be identified said the incident on her block started after midnight and lasted about half an hour. "I've never seen this block flood in 50 years," she recalled. North Franklin Street is located at Lambertville's eastern section, far from the Delaware River, but below the dam operated by United Water.

In a press release issued Aug. 30, United Water said, "On already saturated ground, Lambertville received an unprecedented seven and one-half inches (7 ½”) of rain in 18 hours on Saturday and Sunday. During the storm event, the company issued a precautionary dam warning. This triggers notifications to the local offices of emergency management so they can implement their emergency response plans."

The company release went on to say, "The NJDEP [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] authorized voluntary water discharge to protect the dams. This included releasing water prior to rain events which limited the impact on down-stream lower Lambertville during the storm. The company also worked closely with the local emergency management team staying in constant contact throughout the storm event."

A spokesperson for United Water New Jersey was unable to be reached.

Asked whether the "mystery surge" of water that terrorized residents and businesses was caused solely by flash flooding associated with Hurricane Irene, Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio said, "We don't have all the facts yet. I've asked our engineer to request more details in writing from United Water."

Meanwhile, residents all over Lambertville were asking the same questions Thursday: "Exactly what time did the 'voluntary water discharge' take place?" "Why weren't residents warned in advance?"

Said one former fire official who asked to remain anonymous, "I've heard that maybe the dam operator didn't empty the water before the rainfall, then did it during the Hurricane, and couldn't close the vents."

All unsubstantiated, but in the absence of hard facts, and with many residents and businesses uncovered by insurance and struggling to recover, the details surrounding Lambertville's "mystery surge" remain as muddy and clouded as the nearby Delaware River.

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