The Valley is Still Reeling from the Last Hurricane, but Improvements are on the Way

The Rahway River at 500 Central Avenue. Credit: Darren Tobia.

It’s been two years since the last hurricane and the Valley still hasn’t fully recovered. Roofs, flooring, and electrical systems were damaged in the storm and often the expense of these repairs are passed on to tenants, according to Vidya Ramakrishnan, manager at HANDS, Inc.

Ramakrishnan’s organization is launching the Valley Restoration Project, funded by the TD Charitable Foundation. The $250,000 grant will allow Hands, Inc to make investments in some of its residential properties that were damaged in Hurricane Ida. The Orange-based nonprofit manages 65 units of affordable housing and retail space in the Valley.

“It’s going toward keeping these projects affordable,” Ramakrishnan said. “With the pandemic and the state of the economy, costs have escalated for labor and material.

Ramakrishnan said buildings saw as much as five to six feet of water during the last major storm. 

The flooding in the Valley is sometimes so severe that residents are stuck in their homes and streets become impassable, according to Scott Schultz, who lives on South Jefferson Street.

“We’re in a valley — so we have water coming from every direction and it all meets a half a block from here,” said Schultz, who lives in a HANDS property. “Unfortunately the storm drains get backed up with debris.”

Schultz, who has lived in the Orange for two decades, said his neighborhood is particularly prone to floods when the East Branch of Rahway River, which passes through the Valley Arts District, breaches during rainfall.

In accordance with a new state law, both Orange and West Orange recently named floodplain administrators that will oversee new development in vulnerable neighborhoods. “This will affect all new construction and renovations happening in floodplains,” said Tom Biondi, the West Orange construction official, who will serve as the floodplain administrator. “First we need to identify all the properties located in those areas.”

FEMA ranks New Jersey as one of the most flood prone states in the nation. A new law was signed in July that will make the Department of Environmental Protection disclose information about the risk of flooding in communities. Still, Ramakrishnan believes both townships need a long-term plan to address the severity of floods.

“Storms and hurricanes are becoming more common with climate change,” Ramakrishnan said. “Something needs to be done — given the amount of new construction in the neighborhood, hopefully we’ll be able to figure out a plan quickly.”

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