On Sept. 15, several Jamesburg residents entered Borough Hall with a unified concern: the impact of failing infrastructure and subsequent flooding.
In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ida, severe flooding resulted in significant damages to properties throughout Jamesburg, resurfacing concerns and complaints from residents at the borough’s latest council meeting.
During the period for public comments, resident after resident stood at the podium to explain their situation, looking for accountability and answers.
Dawn Santillo, a resident who lives near Wigwam Brook, addressed Mayor Marlene Lowande directly. She explained that despite sharing a neighborhood, no action has been taken to address the flooding caused by the debris-filled brook.
“I see your house is high up with Wigwam, my house is even with Wigwam. Any flood, not even a flood, just rainfall deteriorates my whole property. … Weeks ago, I pointed that out and I went to look yesterday just hoping somebody would care enough to do something … people have to step up and take care of us as residents. We’re losing property … we’re losing the enjoyment that we should have living in this town. … I just hope you have some good answers tonight for what you plan on doing to move further. … Action needs to be taken,” Santillo said.
Although Tropical Storm Ida was the most recent cause of property damage, many residents refused to pinpoint it as the root cause of Jamesburg’s problems. Instead, they believe it magnified and exposed the underlying issues that have existed in Jamesburg for decades.
Another resident, Adam Bushman, explained that his home on Gatzmer Avenue began to experience flooding 20 years ago, after a Costco distribution warehouse was built nearby. Bushman told the council that Costco’s retention and detention ponds frequently failed, thus, resulting in excess water flowing towards the homes that surround Costco.
“I think we all know approximately 20 years ago, when I actually sat on the council, they started doing a development called Costco, it was 2.1 million square feet. Until Costco was built, we never had any flooding problems on Gatzmer Avenue … all that changed approximately 20 or so years ago. … We’ve had a couple of storms and I’ve been flooded five times since that time. … If the retention pond and detention pond does its job and holds back the water, we don’t have a problem. But when we get too much water, it floods. … It looks like my house is an island in the middle of a lake,” Bushman said.
Several people described the flooding and infrastructure issues as “progressive failures” that require expensive repairs. They also commented on the accumulation of debris from past storms, arguing that it poses a safety hazard for children and the elderly.
Resident Donald Kall stated that in 2005, a dam located behind his home on Prospect Street went unfixed after collapsing during a storm.
“I remember back in 2005, there used to be a damn behind our house. … We came back from vacation and the dam collapsed and that’s when Jamesburg flooded up. … Nothing’s ever been done with that dam … that dam collapsed 16 years ago, and nothing’s been done. I want to know who’s responsible for maintaining that property back there and repairing all the damage that’s done to our house. … It’s not my fault the dam collapsed, and nobody’s done anything,” he said.
Many residents expressed frustration in the passive and circular responses they’ve received when seeking assistance with flooding, neglected infrastructure, and Costco’s responsibility.
In reference to the lack of accountability, Bushman said, “I’ve tried calling Middlesex County stormwater management … they say it’s Jamesburg’s problem, call Jamesburg, Jamesburg says it’s Costco’s and Monroe’s problem. Monroe and Costco, you can’t even talk to because you’re not from Monroe. You’re not a part of Costco, so you’re just marginalized. So, there’s no social justice in that. We’re coming to the council to see what this elected body can do.”
In response to the complaints, Lowande agreed with the criticism of residents, saying that flooding is a major issue and that it will be addressed. She explained that due to the severity of Ida, manpower and resources weren’t immediately available for Jamesburg. Furthermore, the scale of damage also made it difficult for Jamesburg to manage alone.
Despite that, Lowande did attempt to reassure residents that answers would be pursued, and that aid would be provided in due time.
“As I said, it’s really holding us accountable, which you have every right to,” she said.
“We’re here to save Jamesburg. So, that’s our job and that’s what we fight for. I know the regular public and our residents don’t get to see that, but behind the scenes that’s what’s happening. … The rest of this water coming to town, with all the rain that we’ve had, is now a real problem. … Ida came, took everybody away from us into other parts of the state, but we will get them back. … We will continue on this path of finding answers and getting help. Again, these projects are way too big for just a DPW (Department of Public Works) crew, or people who don’t have the equipment or manpower to do. We need some patience and understanding, but please believe we have a lot of bulldogs up here that will go for it until we get help and answers,” Lowande said.