By Arthur H. Gunther III
Remember the TV pitchman who wanted to sell you “unbelievably inexpensive” land in Florida? Standing before a blown-up, wondrous picture of the golden opportunity, his body obscured ever-sinking swampland. So, a sucker is born every minute. In my part of the universe, that’s been happening since at least 1950.
When I was a young fellow in Spring Valley, N.Y., then still a 5,000-person country village, the push was on for post-World War II suburban housing. One of the first developments to rise was the Valley View Estates, pre-fabricated two-bedroom ranch homes off Union Road at $9,990 per. The group of perhaps 50 homes quickly became known as “Sunken View Estates” since they “rose” on a floodplain only to have their bottoms sink into the natural flood waters of the Pascack Brook, a major tributary of the great Hackensack River running from Rockland County’s mountains into New Jersey. Many municipalities are along its route.
Bad place to build -- my father could have told village and Town of Ramapo “planners” that, as could anyone else who ice skated on the marshland in the 1930s. But in the early 1950s, and from then on for perhaps evermore, land speculators often sold municipal officials a bill of goods, promising tax ratables. Sure, culverts were installed at Sunken View to run some of the water off, and those worked until the next big storm, which in the day were not as frequent as they now are. But quickly enough, more development was added, filling in additional floodplain along the Pascack. Today, construction along Union Road includes many hundreds of units, including apartment houses, schools and multi-family dwellings. And flooding continues unabated in a village with a population now of about 32,000. Why was so much more growth allowed in this area?
The flooding goes on despite very expensive “mitigation,” including a wider bridge over the Pascack that took years to build. The next sucker punch will hit all taxpayers in Rockland, not just those in Ramapo and Spring Valley, who will pay for even more flood “control” after authorization by the County Legislature to borrow $10 million. The hope is that at least 80 homes will be spared frequent flooding. That’s about $125,000 per house. Perhaps instead the money should be offered as a buyout for the most seriously affected homes and at least part of the land restored to what nature intended.
The only true “mitigation” along this area of the Pascack, already compromised both upstream and downstream in two states by other unwarranted, ill-advised development, is to return the land for a floodplain.
Not going to happen. Instead, the taxpayer, which could include federal ones at some point, will be on the hook to bail out those who should never have bought in floodplains; to remove any responsibility from developers who should not have built there; and to absolve municipal planners who don’t even visit floodplains before construction approval is given.
I bet, too, that there will be even more construction is this heavily populated area.
Ah, a sucker is born every minute, and the clock is ticking.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.