Blue Acres Floodplain Restoration in Linden Wins Award for Excellence in Water Resources

A project to increase storm resiliency and reduce flood risk through ecological and floodplain restoration on a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Blue Acres property in Linden, NJ was completed earlier this year. Today, we are thrilled to announce our project has received the “Excellence in Water Resources: Ecological Restoration Award” from the New Jersey Section – American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA).

“The Linden Blue Acres Green Infrastructure & Floodplain Restoration is an excellent model for showcasing a successful approach to the enhancement of public lands through a dynamic multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder partnership,” said Mark Gallagher, Vice President of Princeton Hydro. “We are so proud to have seen this project through to completion and are all the more honored to be recognized by the NJ-AWRA with this prestigious award.”

The NJ-AWRA Excellence Award recognizes projects that demonstrate an innovative and effective approach to water resources management. The projects must embody the mission of the AWRA to advance multidisciplinary water resources education, management and research. The Linden Blue Acres project excelled in these areas, resulting in the successful nomination of the project to receive the award.

The City of Linden, located 13 miles southwest of Manhattan, is a highly urbanized area with a complex mix of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses. Originally settled as farmland on broad marshes, the city has deep roots in industrial production that emerged in the 19th century, and its easily accessible location on the Arthur Kill tidal straight helped fuel this industrial development.

Like other communities in the Arthur Kill Watershed, Linden also suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms. Due to a high percentage of impervious cover from houses, roadways, and sidewalks, even small rain events generate a significant amount of stormwater runoff. Tremley Point, a low-lying community of about 275 homes, is particularly prone to backwater flooding because of its low lying landscape position and its proximity to an extensive area of tidal wetlands associated with Marshes Creek, a tributary to the Rahway River.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused widespread destruction to the City of Linden. The City’s Tremley Point neighborhood was especially storm-ravaged; local news outlets reported that a 15-foot tidal surge overtook Tremley Point homes, destroyed roads, and washed up hazardous material such as a 150-gallon diesel tank.

22 properties in Tremley Point were aquired by NJDEP Blue Acres.

To help communities like Tremley Point recover, the NJDEP launched the Blue Acres program under which NJDEP purchases homes from willing sellers at pre-Sandy market values, so residents in areas of repetitive and catastrophic flooding can rebuild their lives outside flood-prone areas. Structures are demolished and the properties are permanently preserved as open space for recreation or conservation purposes.

As part of the NJDEP Blue Acres Program, Princeton Hydro, in collaboration with the City of Linden, Rutgers University, NJDEP, Phillips 66, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and Enviroscapes, took on one of the first ecological restoration projects within Blue Acres-acquired properties. This project increased storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the Tremley Point properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

Project partners at present the project to the community in Linden, NJ

Nancy Sadlon, Manager of Public Affairs for Phillips 66-Bayway Refinery, accepted the award on behalf of the project team and said, “Our team not only made possible the first successful implementation of the floodplain restoration on Blue Acres lands but set a precedent on stakeholder engagement; we showed what is possible when all stakeholders are fully engaged and dedicated to the same goal.”

The project included the development and implementation of an on-the-ground natural green infrastructure-focused floodplain enhancement design involving the restoration of native coastal floodplain forest and meadow, as well as floodplain wetlands. The restored area provides natural buffering to storm surge and enhances floodplain functions to capture, infiltrate, store, and slow excess stormwater to reduce the risk of future flood damage. In addition, it restores natural habitat and provides public recreation access on NJDEP Blue Acres property.

Although the planning for this project occurred over many years, the project officially kicked off in December 2018.  Engineering design was finalized and permitting submissions were completed in September 2019, and construction commenced in October 2019.  The project construction was completed earlier this year.

This project embodies the NJ-AWRA mission as it focuses on restoring a floodplain and enhancing its functions by leveraging the success of the NJDEP Blue Acres buyouts to create even more flood protection for the community. This project also fulfills the NJ-AWRA criteria as several different organizations were involved in bringing it to fruition, including private entities, government agencies, universities, and nonprofit organizations.

Given that this project was the first restoration project to be completed on NJDEP Blue Acres-acquired property, the hope is that it will bring to light other possibilities for restoration work on Blue Acres land. This project can be used as an example for future projects of a similar nature.

We would also like to thank the project funders, whose support made this project possible: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Phillips 66, and the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership.

During the award ceremony, which was held virtually, NJ-AWRA also recognized John A. Miller, PE, CFM, CSM with the Peter Homack Award for “his outstanding contributions toward a multidisciplinary understanding and management of water resources in New Jersey.” John previously worked with Princeton Hydro for 15 years as a Water Resources Engineer and now serves as the Mitigation Liaison to the State of New Jersey at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We are so proud of John and all his accomplishments. This award is well deserved and we congratulate him on this honor.

Read more about the Linden Blue Acres project:

Setting the Precedent: Blue Acres Floodplain Restoration in Linden

Setting the Precedent: Blue Acres Floodplain Restoration in Linden

The City of Linden, located 13 miles southwest of Manhattan in Union County, New Jersey, is a highly urbanized area with a complex mix of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses. Originally settled as farmland on broad marshes, the City has deep roots in industrial production that emerged in the 19th century, and its easily accessible location on the Arthur Kill tidal straight helped fuel this industrial development.

Now, the City of Linden, which is home to more than 40,000 people, is considered a transportation hub: it has three major highways running through it (the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1, and Route 27); its rail station provides critical commuter and industry access; the Linden Municipal Airport is a gateway to the NY/NJ metropolitan area; and its access point on the Arthur Kill is used by shipping traffic to the Port Authority of NY and NJ.

Unfortunately, the industrial boom left a legacy of pollution in the city, so much, that the Tremley Point Alliance submited an official Envionmental Justice Petition to the state. In 2005, the New Jersey Environmental Task Force selected the community for the development of an Environmental Justice Action Plan and listed it as one of six environmental justice communites in New Jersey.

As do many urban municipalities, Linden suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms. One of the significant sources of flood water threatening the City comes from stormwater runoff.

Like other communities in the Arthur Kill Watershed, Linden also suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms with one of the significant sources of flood water coming from stormwater runoff. Due to a high percentage of impervious cover from houses, roadways, and sidewalks, even small rain events generate a significant amount of stormwater runoff. Over time, these conditions have been exacerbated by the historic loss of coastal wetlands and outdated infrastructure. Nuisance flooding is especially problematic as runoff cannot drain from the area at a sufficient rate to prevent flooding during normal or elevated tidal conditions. Very simply, heavy rainfall is one factor contributing to recurring flooding.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused wide-spread destruction throughout New Jersey and the entire eastern seaboard. The City of Linden was hard hit, and the City’s Tremley Point neighborhood was especially storm-ravaged. Tremley Point, a low-lying community of about 275 homes located at the headwaters of Marshes Creek and in the 100-year floodplain of the Rahway River, is regularly flooded during normal rain events. During Hurricane Sandy, local news outlets reported that a 15-foot tidal surge overtook Tremley Point homes, destroyed roads, and washed up hazardous material such as a 150-gallon diesel tank.

To help communities like Tremley Point recover, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) launched the Blue Acres program under which NJDEP purchases homes from willing sellers at pre-Sandy market values, so residents in areas of repetitive and catastrophic flooding can rebuild their lives outside flood-prone areas. Structures are demolished and the properties are permanently preserved as open space for recreation or conservation purposes. The program began in 1995 and expanded with federal funding after Sandy. The goal of the Blue Acres Program is to dramatically reduce the risk of future catastrophic flood damage and to help families to move out of harm’s way.

As part of the NJDEP Blue Acres Program, Princeton Hydro, in collaboration with the City of Linden, Rutgers University, NJDEP, Phillips 66, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and Enviroscapes, has undertaken one of the first ecological restoration projects within Blue Acres-acquired properties, which are located in the Tremley Point neighborhood. This project increases storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the former residential properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

The City of Linden Blue Acres restoration project increases storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the former residential properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

The project includes the development and implementation of an on-the-ground green infrastructure-focused floodplain enhancement design involving the restoration of native coastal floodplain forest and meadow, as well as floodplain wetlands. The restored area provides natural buffering to storm surge and enhances floodplain functions to capture, infiltrate, store, and slow excess stormwater to reduce the risk of future flood damage. In addition, it restores natural habitat and provides public recreation access on NJDEP Blue Acres property.

The design includes re-planting the parcels and the installation of a walking path through part of the area. It also includes the creation of a floodplain bench for the adjacent drainage ditch, an unnamed tributary to Marshes Creek. A floodplain bench is a low-lying area adjacent to a stream or river constructed to allow for regular flooding in these areas. Site improvements include grading of the floodplain bench and minor depressional area; 6-12-inches of tilling, soil amendment, and planting within the planting area; and construction of the gravel pathway.

The project will result in valuable environmental and community benefits to the area, including an annual reduction in stormwater runoff of 4.1 million gallons. This represents a 45% reduction in stormwater runoff. Restoration of the floodplain will also help reduce community vulnerability to storms. The hope is that this project will be a model that fosters more floodplain restoration projects in the future.

For more information on the Blue Acres Program, please visit the DEP website.