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Woodbridge

Andy James

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The Organization

Township of Woodbridge, New Jersey, a Tax-Exempt municipality

Woodbridge is focused on: Watershed preservation or reclamation - Wildlife habitat conservation - Wildlife habitat creation - Removing invasive species - Water quality improvements - Aesthetic improvements - Cleanup / remediation - Accessibility - Pollution reduction - Native species promotion - Research and species inventories - Other good stuff

The Mission

Woodbridge Township has the unique opportunity to increase the neighborhood’s resilience to flooding and protecting its residents from the next major flood event. Additionally, the opportunities to restore, conserve, and protect our natural wetlands and improve the sustainability of our waterways and wildlife is crucial for our Township’s current and future quality of life.

The Town

Its mission, led by Mayor John E. McCormac is dedicated to providing high-quality public services and improving the quality of life for its residents, in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. 

While working to accomplish those two goals, the Mayor’s vision of the Township is also helping contribute to the environmental needs of our community and the state. Woodbridge Township has been awarded a 3-STAR Community Rating for national leadership in sustainability - noting that the prestigious STAR Community Rating System designation is awarded to a municipality only after an extensive review that evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities. Woodbridge achieved the 3-STAR rating after completing a year-long pilot evaluation. The 3-STAR Community Rating supports our Sustainable Jersey and New Jersey League of Municipalities designation as the New Jersey “Sustainable Champion” - having achieved Silver-Level Certification for five consecutive years (2009 – 2013). 

As part of the successful application for the STAR Community Rating, Woodbridge Township, working in conjunction with “Greenable Woodbridge,” Sustainable Jersey, and the Rutgers University Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability (CUES), implemented innovative sustainable initiatives including a $7 million project to install energy-producing solar panels on municipal, school, fire department, private sector and residential buildings designed to save Township taxpayers and businesses long-term energy costs through a self-sustaining source of energy that will provide a portion of the Township’s power needs for years to come; creation of a ‘green’ business recognition program; implementation of a fully automated trash collection and single-stream recycling program that dramatically increased recycling and decreased the amount of waste going to the county landfill; implementation of energy-saving audits and retrofits at municipal buildings and facilities; integration of fuel efficient hybrid vehicles and bio-fuels into the municipal fleet; and designation of Woodbridge Township as a Mayor’s Wellness community. 

“Greenable Woodbridge” encourages all sectors of the community to become involved in implementing innovative, cost-effective, sustainable, environmentally-friendly and energy efficient programs and initiatives designed to provide long-term ‘green’ benefits to Woodbridge’s ten towns. Additional ‘Greenable Woodbridge’ sustainable initiatives already implemented or underway include: Mayor’s Environmental Commission; Development of educational and instructional programs promoting “green” technology and sustainable programs for schools, community associations and local businesses; Promoting “Buy Local” initiatives and creation of a “Buy Local” APP; Establishing a summer Farmers’ Market; Creation of a tree replacement program in parks and municipal properties; Implementation of a Sustainable Community Climate Action Plan; Accelerated development of Safe Routes to Schools initiatives; Established a complete street program and bicycle route plan; Implementation of energy upgrades in Municipal buildings which led to an overall decrease in the municipal carbon footprint; Creation of a wetlands and brownfield inventory; Creation of multiple Sustainable Arts initiatives; Establish an all-encompassing “Greenable Woodbridge” web page located at www.twp.woodbridge.nj.us (also http://www.greenablewoodbridgenj.com/) which provides information on every aspect of “going green” and sustainable initiatives, along with easy-to-use information on the steps we can all take to establish Woodbridge Township as a leader in sustainable living.

The Project

In October of 2012, Super Storm Sandy devastated New Jersey when the storm came on shore creating wide spread power outages, fuel shortages, and damage from high winds and flooding. The Township of Woodbridge, which sits along the Arthur Kill, Raritan River, and the Woodbridge River, suffered substantial flooding and wind damage due to the storm. In the subsequent months after the storm, the Township took a proactive approach to its recovery. Woodbridge has been participating in New Jersey’s Blue Acres program, which will give residents whose homes were affected by the storm’s flood waters, relief. The buy-out process, which Woodbridge is one of the first in the State to receive approval, is currently on-going.

According to Township records, the Township of Woodbridge experienced an assessment reduction of more than $1.2 million to residential properties, combined with current claims of between $7-8 million worth of damage to municipal owned facilities as a result of Super Storm Sandy. The damage that was suffered primarily occurred within the Watson-Crampton neighborhood in the Woodbridge Proper section.
Sections of the Township most affected by the storm were along the Woodbridge River which over the past 30 years has become an area that has suffered from multiple flooding events due to land development and the industrial uses present at the mouth of the river that have weakened the area’s natural defenses. 

The Watson Crampton neighborhood of Woodbridge, which is located in the Woodbridge Proper section of the Township, was significantly impacted by Superstorm Sandy. The Woodbridge River, located directly east of the neighborhood flowing south to the Arthur Kill, overflowed its banks. The storm surge, which has been characterized as “a tsunami-like water wall,” sent an enormous amount of water into the neighborhood. Many of the lower lying homes along Crampton and Watson Avenues were inundated with surge waters that penetrated and destroyed basements and first level living areas.

In addition to Superstorm Sandy, the Watson Crampton neighborhood was also significantly impacted by Hurricane Irene in 2011, which flooded the neighborhood and damaged homes and properties. Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene were not the first storms to impact the neighborhood. For three decades the homeowners in this neighborhood have dealt with minor flooding during summer storms and widespread flooding during Nor’easters and major storm events. As residential neighborhoods continued to develop along the Woodbridge River and the New Jersey Turnpike expanded through the salt marshes, the frequency of flooding escalated.

The wetlands are present along the Woodbridge River and Heards Brook. They are located in and around many of the residential properties and alongside the streams and tributaries that traverse the neighborhood. Wetlands provide valuable support for communities during flood events. They act like natural sponges as they absorb overflow water from rivers and slow the movement of floodwater.

Wetlands also provide homes for thousands of diverse species of plants and animals. The Landscape Project is a program under the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife. Their mission is to provide long-term protection for New Jersey’s at risk species and their habitats. The wetlands and meadows located within the Watson Crampton neighborhood include areas designated under the Landscape Project as Rank 1: Habitat Specific Requirements, and Rank 3: State Threatened. Rank 1 includes areas that meet habitat specific requirements for endangered or threatened species but the presence of such species have yet to be confirmed. Rank 1 areas are good indications of where future wildlife surveys should occur. Rank 3 includes areas containing State threatened species. A State threatened species is an indigenous nongame wildlife species that may become endangered if their habitat begins to deteriorate. In the Watson Crampton neighborhood Black-crowned Night-herons, a State threatened species, as well as Little Blue Herons, a species not yet threatened but considered as a “special concern,” have been spotted.

Our proposed project is to develop restoration planning concepts for the flood prone properties purchased through the Blue Acres Program, with the goal of transforming these areas to open space, floodplain storage, and parkland. Woodbridge Township is committed to realizing the potential of these properties and developing long term management strategies that will ensure that these areas benefit local residents as well as the larger community. This project will be a major coordination with Rutgers University (Rutgers Cooperative Extension) as they will partner with the Township to provide the technical assistance for the project. This will include three tasks: site assessment, conceptual design, and a public presentation. The site assessment will collect all available data and conduct a thorough site evaluation of the flood prone properties and surrounding community environs. Rutgers will prepare a conceptual design plan proposing recommended improvements and restoration strategies for the flood prone properties of interest. Once the conceptual plan has been completed and reviewed by designated community representatives, Rutgers will present the proposed design to the public.

The goal of this proposed project will be to increase flood storage, minimize future flood damages, promote passive recreation, and develop a sustainable long-term management strategy for the new open space areas created through the flood prone Blue Acres property acquisition. 

Key Project Milestones

One key milestone that has been ongoing is the Blue Acres Program. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Blue Acres Program is part of New Jersey’s Green Acres Program, which allows for the purchase of flood-prone properties by the State. Through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Superstorm Sandy Blue Acres Buyout Program, the State of New Jersey has allocated $300 million in federal disaster recovery funds to give homeowners the option to sell Sandy damaged homes at pre-storm value in flood-prone areas. The program is designed to give homeowners the ability to choose the best option for their individual situation.

Throughout New Jersey, and in Woodbridge specifically, the State has begun to buy clusters of homes or whole neighborhoods that were flooded during Superstorm Sandy and previous storms events. These homes are in the process of being demolished, and the land will be permanently preserved as public open space, for recreation or conservation. The preserved land will serve as a natural buffer against future storms and floods.

The goal of the Blue Acres Program is to dramatically reduce the risk of future catastrophic flood damage, and to help families move out of harm’s way. Woodbridge Township was designated a community in need of Blue Acres Program assistance in 2013 and has identified 436 parcels within the Township had experienced repetitive flood damage due to both Superstorm Sandy and other past storm events. Of these 436 eligible properties, 176 applied for a buyout under the Blue Acres Program.

During fall 2014 and winter 2015, the State began to make offers to the applicant homeowners, who in turn can accept or reject the offer. If a homeowner decides to reject the State’s offer, no further State or federal assistance will be offered to that property or homeowner. If a homeowner decides to accept the offer, the homeowner must vacate the property once the sale has closed. The structure will then be demolished and the parcel readied for open space or passive recreational use. In the Watson Crampton neighborhood there are 195 eligible properties. To date, 112 houses have accepted offers and closed. Of those, demolition has occurred on 68 houses which began in March 2015. The Blue Acres Program, including buy-outs and demolitions are still on-going and will be continuing into 2016. Our proposed work in the new open space and wetlands area cannot begin until this process finalizes.

Rough Budget for This Project

$7,000