Project Profile: Flood-Prone Community Bound for Greatness

Oct. 6, 2016

In September 1999, before becoming mayor of the Borough of Bound Brook, NJ, Robert Fazen woke up to the sound of helicopters hovering over his house. He soon realized they were news helicopters televising the flood damage caused by Tropical Storm Floyd.

“Downtown Bound Brook was like a war zone with flooded businesses and apartments, and out-of-control fires,” says Fazen. “Police were in motor boats navigating the flooded streets rescuing residents from second-story apartments, cars were floating down Main Street, and fire department boats were moored to street lamp poles, hosing down store fires.”

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Credit: USACE
Green Brook flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011

He recalls, “The rescue continued for days, and the physical recovery took months. The mental state of Bound Brook was changed. We all wondered if our downtown would ever recover.”

Today, Fazen is pleased that Bound Brook has recovered. Recently, he, in collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District and partnering agencies, completed the Bound Brook portion of the Green Brook Flood Risk Management Project. This significant development will help protect residents from experiencing another Floyd, will drastically reduce their flood insurance, and will improve Bound Brook’s economy.

For the past century, Bound Brook and the surrounding region has been subjected to severe, and sometimes devastating, flooding resulting in $2.5 billion (1996 dollars) in damages, widespread resident evacuations, injuries, and deaths.

Credit: USACE
Flooding and fires on Main Street in downtown Bound Brook during Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999

In 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the Green Brook Flood Risk Management Project. The Corps is working in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; Middlesex, Somerset, and Union counties in New Jersey; the Green Brook Flood Control Commission; and other partnering agencies.

The project is expected to provide comprehensive flood protection to the entire Green Brook Basin, which covers 65 square miles in north central New Jersey and includes 14 municipalities in Middlesex, Somerset, and Union counties.

Credit: USACE

The basin is a depression in the land surface that experiences flooding from the Raritan River and its tributaries—the Middle Brook, Green Brook, Bound Brook, and Stony Brook—during heavy rain and storm events. The most severe flooding has occurred in downtown Bound Brook, within the Borough of Bound Brook in Somerset County.

Besides Floyd, the basin was flooded in August 2, 1973, by a big storm and from April 15 to 17, 2007, by a nor’easter.

The project includes constructing an elaborately engineered system of levees, flood walls, closure gates, and pumping facilities throughout the Green Brook Basin.

In addition, channels are being modified; buildings are being flood-proofed, voluntarily bought out, or demolished; bridges are being raised and demolished; and wetland mitigation is being performed.

The project is designed to provide flood protection for up to a 150-year storm event. “This is a flood whose strength and water height is predicted to occur, on average, about once in 150 years,” explains Robert Greco, project manager with the Corps’ New York District.

The project as a whole is still in ­progress, but the Bound Brook portion is completed.

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Greco explains the completed work: “To prevent water from the Raritan, Middle Brook, and Green Brook rivers from flooding the Borough of Bound Brook, we constructed levees and floodwalls around the borough. We also constructed an interior drainage system that includes pump stations and interior drainage pipes that will convey the water on the protected side to the pump stations during a rain event.”

In July 2016, flood insurance ­requirements changed in the Borough of Bound Brook. According to Fazen, approximately 500 properties will no longer be required to pay flood insurance, and the value of those properties, along with all the properties in the Borough of Bound Brook, will increase 10-20%.

Reduced flood risk is bringing new business to the Borough of Bound Brook and increasing its economy. Greco says that this is evident by the presence of stable businesses moving onto Main Street in downtown Bound Brook and the development of two major apartment complexes.

Fazen notes, “Potential flooding has always inhibited outside investment, and with the threat of flooding reduced, development is accelerating.”

He adds that new development ­projects are also no longer burdened with state flood ­regulations and flood insurance costs.

Bound Brook residents like Alberto Torregroza, who has lived in the Borough of Bound Brook for 26 years and raised five children there, are satisfied with the work done in Bound Brook and the reduced flood insurance. “This is great news that we have been waiting for years to hear,” says Torregroza. “The significant reduction of our flood insurance will help us save money. The insurance may even be totally eliminated. Now we can improve the appearance of our homes and the entire town with continual maintenance and redevelopment plans.”

Torregroza’s family has been flooded out of their Bound Brook home several times since 1992. This included experiencing the devastation caused by ­Tropical Storm Floyd.

“The completion of this flood project will prevent us from seeing another major storm such as Floyd,” he says. “When there are children involved in these difficult and trying situations, as was the case with our family, it is an indescribable state of confusion, disbelief, and financial hardship that affects the entire family and everyone in the community.”

“The residents of Bound Brook are ecstatic,” says Fazen. “We always had the threat of flooding in our minds. With this project, residents feel a sense of safety.”

Torregroza adds, “Bound Brook is a beautiful town, and we are grateful to all the parties involved for their efforts and determination to get this done. We are really going to see this community prosper, grow, and improve its quality of life.”