Kearny seeks ways to protect town if ‘big storm’ hits again

Photo by Ron Leir
At their new temporary station are (from l.) firefighter Scott Coulson, Capt. Harry Fearon and firefighter Tony Calabro.



By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


After the recent battering its residents in low-lying areas took from Hurricane Sandy, Kearny is re-evaluating the status of its five pumping stations.

The pumps – located at East Midland Avenue, Quincy Place, John Hay Avenue, Sellers Street and Harrison Avenue – were inundated by flooding during the peak of the Oct. 29 storm and, absent power, they simply stopped working, Mayor Alberto Santos said.

East Midland Avenue resident Margaret Siegle, one of those victimized residents, expressed her neighborhood’s concerns at a recent meeting of the town’s governing body and Santos said she raised “cogent points” about the pumps’ vulnerabilities.

“The power outage didn’t allow our pump stations to operate,” Santos said. After Sandy subsided, “we had one portable generator that we rationed between the East Midland neighborhood, our public works gas pumps and Town Hall,” Santos said.

But, before that happened, he acknowledged, “the majority of houses (in the East Midland section) were flooded as the (tidal) surge came up through the sewer lines.”

Two issues that the town will be exploring, Santos said, are providing backup power sources and raising elevation levels for the pumps. As an interim move, Santos said the town will be purchasing additional portable generators. And, he said, “we’re also looking at the possibility of installing permanent generators at all our pump stations.”

But the latter option would be an expensive proposition, Santos said, with the cost likely to reach anywhere from $1 million to $2 million.

Santos said he’s instructed the town’s consulting engineer, Neglia Engineering Associates, of Lyndhurst, to do an assessment of the town’s response to Sandy and to make recommendations for improvement strategies at the Dec. 4 council meeting.

Among the issues that Neglia will examine, Santos said, is the failure of certain municipal communication systems. “While our civilian and police phone system worked, as did our town reverse 911 and website, our town e-mail didn’t come back until the Wednesday after the storm,” he said. Police Chief John Dowie said the Police Department experienced a communications setback when storm gusts ripped off part of the Town Hall roof containing police radio signal “repeaters,” forcing cops to rely on “walkie-talkie” units until those failed. At that point, Dowie said, officers deployed a “talk-around/group radio channel” of limited range and individual cellular phones. “It underscores the need for an improved communications system,” he said.

“We’ll be looking at all gaps in our systems and we’ll be working on closing those gaps,” the mayor said.

Another post-Sandy dilemma facing Kearny is the replacement of its leased Second Precinct Police and Fire Station in a South Hackensack Ave. warehouse in South Kearny that was declared a “total loss” after being inundated by water.

Councilman Michael Landy, who toured the facility with Santos and Councilwomen Susan McCurrie and Eileen Eckel, said: “I can’t believe how deep the water was. You could see by the water line that it came in four to five feet deep in the (police) substation.”

McCurrie said the water flooded the entire interior, including the living quarters for the firefighters there, along with computers and phones. “We’re looking for an alternative presence in South Kearny,” she said.

Fire Chief Steven Dyl said that, for now, the fire personnel assigned to that station and the company’s Engine 17 have been relocated to another warehouse facilility maintained by the Jersey City Fire Deptartment on Kearney Avenue in the city’s West Side area, close to Rt. 440 and Truck Rt. 1&9, which provide quick access to South Kearny.

Dyl said a foam tender truck used by the department for attacking industrial fires was compromised by the storm and has been “sent out for repair.”

An insurance claim will be filed for an estimated $10,000 in damages to the interior, Dyl said.

Santos said he’s meeting with Dyl and Town Administrator Michael Martello to investigate alternate sites in the area that could accommodate the two rigs. “We’re also getting prices for trailers for the Police Department,” the mayor added.

Another South Kearny-based government facility that took a major hit from Sandy was the Hudson County Correctional Center on South Hackensack Avenue on the Hackensack River waterfront with several thousand inmates. Its main facility suffered $1.1 million in damages from the storm, according to one estimate.

During the storm, a tidal surge swamped the jail’s parking area, destroying 15 government vehicles and between 45 and 50 employee vehicles, according to Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea.

Last Thursday, the freeholders authorized the purchase of three prisoner transport vans to relieve part of the jail’s motor pool strain.

Prisoner transport became an irritant to local police, especially Jersey City, O’Dea said, when jail officials “decided not to accept any new inmates” after being overwhelmed by power outage issues. Normally, prisoners would be held at the county’s Central Judicial Processing Court during the day and later, would be shipped to the jail but, since there was no court due to the storm, local police had to hold prisoners in small municipal lockups that soon became burdensome. It wasn’t until after a Jersey City police official intervened that the jail relented and reversed its policy, O’Dea said.

Meanwhile, jail staff are still reeling from Sandy’s onslaught.

Five trailers that housed jail employees assigned to maintenance and processing of “bracelet program” inmates were also destroyed by the storm, O’Dea said. “Now, those personnel are crammed in to the main facility so the freeholders are going to do an expedited bid process to secure new quarters.”

As for county roads, Harrison Avenue – a major eastwest through route for motorists accessing state highway Rt. 280, the N.J. Turnpike and Holland Tunnel – remained closed for eight days after the storm. “Initially,” O’Dea said, “it was shut because of flooding but after that, Kearny and the (Hudson County) Sheriff’s Deptartment said it wouldn’t reopen due to two inoperable traffic lights at the federal postal facility, allegedly because there weren’t enough (traffic) cones and barriers to safely maintain traffic.”

And so the road remained closed – “until the governor’s office weighed in,” O’Dea said, and repair work was done during the Veterans’ Day holiday period. “By 8 p.m. that Monday (Nov. 12), the road reopened,” he said. “It had been closed for two weeks.”

Learn more about the writer ...