Bergen County officials blame Suez North America for Friday’s storm flooding

Officials in Bergen County say that flooding caused by last Friday’s storms could have been prevented and they are blaming Suez North America for a lack of communication.
The officials say that 3.5 inches of rain should not cause major flooding from the Hackensack River. They say that if Suez North America had warned them that they were releasing water along the river from spillways and the dam, then perhaps the flooding impact wouldn’t have been so severe.
“One phone call – one phone call,” says Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.
Tedesco says that if towns downstream like New Milford, Oradell and River Edge had been warned, things would have been different.
“A plan would allow us to notify all of those businesses, New Jersey Transit, PSE&G and the town to say, ‘Move your equipment. The water is coming,’” Tedesco says.
Tedesco says that without that call, homes were flooding and millions of dollars in equipment at a construction site were lost. A PSE&G station and NJ Transit bus hub were flooded. Drivers had to be rescued from flooded roads.
“It just came over my windshield and it just started to rise up from the bottom,” says Ilona DeSantis, of Ringwood.
DeSantis says she was driving around 1 a.m. on Friday when her car was swamped on New Milford Avenue. She says she was terrified and had to get out of her car on her own.
“I just called 911 and they asked me if I could swim,” she says.
Local officials are now demanding that Suez North America start to communicate with townships, form a strategy for the Hackensack River to avoid flooding and get in the business of flood mitigation.
“We understand that the company sees the water in the reservoir as a profit margin and every time they release it, profits go downstream,” says Oradell Councilwoman Tracy Schoenberg.
But she says profits can’t outweigh the people.
“They need to understand that their actions and inaction have a profound and devastating effect on the financial and emotional lives of people in New Milford,” says New Milford Mayor Mike Petrino.
But a spokesperson for Suez North America tells News 12 New Jersey that the company did not release water from the dam. The spokesperson says due to a larger-than-expected rainfall, the reservoir did spill downstream. The company also says that they warned the Office of Emergency Management weeks ago that this could happen.
Suez says company officials are willing to sit down with Tedesco to formulate a plan going forward.