2012-12-27 / Front Page
Legislators survey flood damage in Sayreville
State representatives take tour of Middlesex and Monmouth counties
The Dec. 21 tour took them through the Old Bridge section of Sayreville, where a tenth of the neighborhood’s homes have crumbling foundations, and to Weber Avenue, where the majority of homes remain uninhabitable.
“We are just hoping this will help with exposure,” said William Street resident Frank Mazzaroni.
He said he hoped that the visit would call attention to issues that many in the neighborhood are facing, such as denials from flood insurance claims and mortgage payments on homes that may sit in disrepair for a great length of time.
“When I bought my house in 1990, this was a 500-year flood zone,” Mazzaroni said, indicating that his home had a “moderate” risk of flooding, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards. “Now, I paid $3,600 this year because of [Tropical Storm] Irene [in August 2011]. Next year, I can imagine we’d pay $700 per month in flood insurance.”
The Old Bridge section of town, which is comprised of four streets at the southwestern edge of Sayreville, is partly surrounded by the South River. Water comes in from the end and sides of the neighborhood during a flood.
Assembly members toured two homes at the edge of the neighborhood, one on William Street and another on Bordentown Avenue. Both homes’ foundations have caved in as a result of the flooding.
From this neighborhood, the assembly members boarded a bus to visit Weber Avenue and Macarthur Avenue. The area, low land with close proximity to the South River and the Washington Canal, suffered water heights that swelled to 14 feet at the peak of the storm. Nearly all the homes are uninhabitable, and more than 30 have lost their foundations.
“The water went all the way up near Borough Hall,” Wisniewski, a Sayreville resident, explained while gesturing toward nearby Dolan Street. “The athletic fields were underwater, and all these fields across the street … were affected.”
Residents Richard Bednarz and Joe Deoliveira showed their neighbors’ homes, both inside and out.
“We are in an ‘A’ flood zone because of the flooding, and that ‘A’ zone has been extended to almost a block from Borough Hall,” Deoliveira told legislators.
Bednarz gave legislators a brief history of the flooding issues in the area and the background of the original planning for the site. In the 1960s, Bednarz explained, builders were denied permission to develop by the Sayreville Planning Board because of the area’s low-lying land and proximity to the river. The Middlesex County appeals court overturned the decision, allowing homes to be built in the area.
“The flood mess started in 1992, when there were about 50 houses here,” Bednarz said.
That 1992 flood was the largest in memory until March 2010, when a flash flood devastated the neighborhood. Seventeen months later, in August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene hit the neighborhood, followed by Sandy on Oct. 29.
“I’ve been through this four times, and it’s taken 15 years off my life,” Bednarz said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was approved to begin work on a floodwall in 1992, but 18 years later, the group informed the borough that it was still in the “pre-engineering and design phase” of the project.
“They said then that it would take another 10 to 20 years before they could stick anything in the ground,” Deoliveira said. The majority of Weber Avenue residents are seeking to be bought out in a federal program through FEMA, but Bednarz said that many questions remain, such as how market value will be calculated. FEMA representatives informed Bednarz and others that the fair market value of their homes will be assessed at the price it would have been on Oct. 28, the day before the flood, while some politicians have said that fair market value will be measured at prerecession values.
“In fairness, nobody should have made that promise [regarding prerecession fair market values],” Wisniewski said. “That’s a great goal, but nobody should have that expectation. If we can make everybody whole, [so that] their mortgages are paid out and you get enough money for a new house, that has to be the goal. … but we have to be realistic.”
The tour departed from Weber Avenue and continued to make stops in Perth Amboy and various points in Monmouth County.
Contact Stella Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.