2011-01-20 / Front Page

Matawan and county partner to restore dams, bridge

DEP: Lake Lefferts, Matawan dams do not meet current standards
BY JACQUELINE HLAVENKA
Staff Writer


Lake Matawan Lake Matawan The borough of Matawan and Monmouth County have executed a joint partnership to rehabilitate two dams at Lake Lefferts and Lake Matawan, as well as to reconstruct the Ravine Drive bridge over the Matawan Creek watershed to comply with new state environmental regulations.

The $10 million interlocal agreement, prompted by a directive from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), will be split between the municipality and the county over the next 20 years through a low-interest loan to repair the two dams, which are cited by the DEP as “high hazard dams.”

Matawan will pay approximately $4 million for its half of the project and the county will contribute $6 million for the repairs, including 100 percent of the costs for the Ravine Drive bridge, according to current estimates from the county.

“What is driving this project is that these dams do not meet current standards and, quite frankly, haven’t met those standards for quite some time,” said Joseph M. Ettore, county engineer, at a special public meeting of the Matawan Borough Council on Jan. 11.

“It is getting to the point where regulators from the DEP are being forced to take some sort of action. We are not only seeing this in Matawan, but we are seeing it throughout the county.” The dams have not been replaced in more than 30 years, according to Mayor Paul Buccellato. In July 1978, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed a Phase I inspection of dams throughout the country, including Matawan.

“Although we are a very small municipality, Matawan’s dams were included in that study because there was a rash of dam failures in the southern part of the country,” Buccellato said.

During that time, the Lake Matawan dam was classified in poor condition with inadequate spill weight capacity, and the Lake Lefferts dam was classified as unsafe and seriously unsafe for spill weight capacity. The study also found several deficiencies in general maintenance of the lakes and issues such as trees and vegetation growing in the embankments.

“[The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] classified both dams as significant hazard dams,” Buccellato said. “Of course, there is always a price to [repairing] it.”

John C. Ritchey, a representative from the DEP’s Bureau of Dam Safety and Flood Control, spoke to residents at the meeting and explained that state regulations for dam safety standards have been in place since 1985, but the DEP gained more power to enforce penalties on municipalities and counties for noncompliant dams after the massive 2004 floods that damaged parts of Burlington County.

“We lost 18 dams in that flood, and that kind of picked the Legislature up and gave us the enforcement arm,” Ritchey said. “Now we’ve been given the backbone to go after these dams and get them fixed. As a result of a lot of floods and failures and dam cases around the state, we were given $95 million [statewide] to administer as low-interest loans to repair dams. … [W]e have set aside $16 million to fix these [Matawan] dams. It is our priority now to get all these high hazard dams into compliance, and we need to get moving.”

For a dam ranked high hazard potential, a probable maximum flood in 24 hours is 34 inches of rain, Ritchey said, which could put the borough at risk for flooding, accidents and property damage during heavy or severe weather. High hazard dams also present a potential threat to loss of life, according to the DEP.

According to Borough Attorney Pasquale Menna, the $16 million from the DEP acts as a line of credit with 2 percent interest that would only be paid on that amount of the loan that is actually spent over a period of time. Buccellato said the governing body filed an application during the 2004-05 year for the allocation of loans for lake improvements, one for each dam.

“At the time in ’07, the council requested that the mayor sign the documents,” he said. “My predecessor would only sign one of the loan agreements and that was a $16 million loan. As Mr. Menna said, it is an equity loan and we only pay principal and interest on that which is borrowed. That is not to say the project is that much money … that is what the loan is for. [The loan] will start after the project is finished and it will be phased in [gradually] during the process of the project.”

If the borough fails to comply to fix the dams, Ritchey said both the county and the municipality could incur large fines based on failure to comply with state code. The DEP has the authority to penalize the borough with $25,000 fines per day for not repairing the dams, or removal of the dams, he said.

“We ultimately could get an order from a court saying to remove the dams, drain the impoundments and do it that way,” Ritchey said. “That also takes construction activity. It would be a burden on the county and borough to pay for that action.”

Ettore said the DEP has statutory authority to determine ownership of the dams, which is split evenly between the county and the municipality.

Several residents voiced concerns that the county should foot the entire bill for the repairs, but Ettore said both governing bodies have the responsibility to ensure the safety of local waterways and infrastructure.

“In this particular case with Lake Lefferts, the determination is that the county and the borough are jointly responsible for the dam,” Ettore said. “We have been discussing for quite some time now with the governing body and the freeholders that would jointly advance the necessary repairs to dams and to the bridge.”

The Ravine Drive bridge, built in 1927, is a reinforced concrete structure, Ettore said, which is in fair condition.

“If you drive over the bridge today, unlike some of the other bridges throughout this county and others, you will not see a weight restriction on the bridge, which means from a structural standpoint, the core of the bridge itself is not in a condition that is a large priority for repairing need,” he said. “That being said, the spill weight [of the dams] is inadequate. If we are going to be replacing the spill weight, bringing it up to current standards … the proper time to [repair the bridge] is when the spill weight is being replaced.”

Once the county and borough agree on engineering plans and a design concept, the governing bodies will be able to refine the original $10 million cost estimate down, Ettore said.

“The proposal that we discussed is that the county would pay for 100 percent of the bridge reconstruction, which is totally our responsibility,” he said. “The cost of the dam reconstruction, though, would be split between the borough and the county. As [the DEP’s Ritchey] indicated, there is $16 million available in the grant. We’ve always viewed it along with the borough as a line of credit.

“There were some preliminary engineer’s estimates [that were] in everyone’s opinions … very high, but we wanted to make sure there was sufficient funding available for the long term.”

The anticipated timeline of the project involves the execution of an engineering contract in the spring and the permitting and design process, a range of about 18 months, Ettore said. Following that 18-month period, construction would begin on both dams and the bridge.

Many residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the project’s cost and called for both lakes to be drained, but Ritchey said the cost to remediate the land and remove the dams could be equally as expensive as repairing them, if not more.

Buccellato added that draining the lakes would be a blow to the borough’s tax rolls, causing a reduction of property values for lakefront real estate that provides a large chunk of the borough’s $9 million spending plan.

“The impact on the borough financially to drain the lakes would be a reduction in property values along the lakes, thereby reducing the value and reducing the taxes and shifting all the tax burden for the rest of the borough,” he said. “Financially, we would be on the losing end. We would [also] be losing two beautiful lakes that the residents utilize during the spring and the summer for canoeing, rowing, boating and fishing.”

He added, “The reality is, if we don’t move forward, there are consequences. You know what the alternative is,” he said alluding to possible flood damage or state fines.

The funding for the work on Lake Matawan would come from a loan the governing body secures from the state, and only that portion of the loan that Matawan draws down would be repaid by the borough.

Lake Matawan and Lake Lefferts are man-made lakes that connect to Matawan Creek.

“Unfortunately it has been dictated to us by the state that we are 50/50 in this project,” said Councilwoman Toni Angelini. “We could sit here all night long and discuss what may or may not have happened, but it’s important for all of us to look forward to the future for the best solution to get this fixed.”

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