Jan. 7, 1999
They say when it rains it pours, but this time of year, you would think that we would get snow, not almost four inches of rain over night, filling up the river like a shallow tea cup
Town officials kept telling themselves how lucky they were, how when a winter storm like this strikes during a full moon, you get hit hard when you live this close to a river like the Hackensack, and we did get hit, water flowing over the banks and through the reeds, and yes even into the streets, where people drive and children ride their bicycles and unlucky dogs wander looking for refuge.
What if the town had not made so many improvements over the years, especially in the soup bowl center of the town on streets with names like Humboldt, Golden, and Chestnut all might have been the name of ponds, not streets, and people needed boats not cars to get too and from their front doors.
New curbs, new drains, new sidewalks are the ammunition towns use to fight back against Mother Nature these days, as if life along any river anywhere in this part of the world could ever see victory in such a dispute.
But town officials keep calling it progress or an improvement, even though all know it is a battle that will be waged through generations, not merely years, and that in the end, storms will grow worse and more powerful, the full moon they fear will continue to wink through the thickening clouds as if laughing at these futile efforts, saying that all the flood control efforts will not keep back the tides, and all the sand bags and berms and the drains will only enrage nature more and in the end, water will still flow through the streets and people’s lives will be altered.
Secaucus is a maze of ditches and retention basins, opening and closing tide gates, and prayers of residents who hope this storm will like the angel of death pass over them this time, leaving them dry for a change.
“If not for the high tide, I think we would have controlled it nearly completely," Councilman Michael Grecco said, one of those brave souls who struggled to contain disaster in a town surrounded by water. Seven years ago, when I first started working here, reporting on the day to day battle here, storms roared through this world leaving people homeless in its wake, and during those years, DPW employees took to boats and backhoes and installed berms on those roads where water had ruined lives, roads with old names like Farm Road, or Acorn Road or Mill Ridge Road, all snug this time when the water came – not all, some still got wet, but not as bad, roads over which the lapping river still made its intrusion and still raised complaints, residents calling in a panic over the rising tides, seeing the brown water of the Hackensack creep slowly through their yards, if not the same burglar that stole their possession in the past, then near enough to scare them into thinking it might happen again, all praying that the dykes would hold back the worst and the pumps would put a brake to the slow, inch by inch advance.
For the most part, they did, so that when the rain stopped and people came out of their houses, they were grateful to God and to the more localized Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission, who had given the town the money to buy the pumps and build the dykes, but also had done so much to pave over this part of the world that the river had no place else to go but into the streets and yes, into people’s homes, and that maybe the town was spared this time, but what about the next time, when more gets paved over, and the water has even less place to go?
Town officials said frozen ground made absorbing a problem, but so did asphalt and concrete over places that were once meadows, where ditches cut through narrow gaps, but can’t handle everything running into them.
"Given the amount of rain that fell in such a short period of
time onto frozen ground, I expected a much worse situation," said Michael Gonnelli, head of the DPW here, taking note that some parts of town were not so lucky, especially those places were the drains into which the rain was supposed drain were below the level of the river, and that water came up out of them not into them, one more trick Mother Nature pulled, and will likely pull again: full moon, high tides, and over development.