ATLANTIC CITY — The $13 million Baltic Avenue Canal does stop nuisance flooding, but only if city workers turn the pumps on.
Unfortunately, city workers did not activate them last weekend, resulting in serious road flooding through parts of the city that should have been protected, especially Sunday night.
The pumps, located at Fishermen’s Park near Gardner’s Basin, weren’t activated until 8 a.m. Monday morning, said Atlantic City Fire Chief Scott Evans, who directs the city Office of Emergency Management.
Workers thought they would come on automatically, he said.
“All the automated features weren’t in service yet. We had to send a person over to turn it on manually,” Evans said. “Once activated, the streets cleared out quickly.”
The canal is a massive, 1.8-mile concrete underground tunnel that drains 775 acres of the city from the Inlet to Atlantis Avenue near the Atlantic City Expressway entrance. Water runs off streets, through storm drains into the structure, to be pumped back out into the bay.
New steel gates have been installed at each end, and two large pumps have been installed at the Fishermen’s Park end, at North Rhode Island and Melrose avenues. Six more pumps are to be installed within about two years at the other end at Atlantis Avenue and the bay.
The pumping system will be automated, hopefully within about six months, said Edward Dennis Jr., of Remington & Vernick Engineers in Pleasantville, which managed the project for the city.
“When the system is fully built out, we will have four times the capacity we have now,” said Dennis. He said there are two pumps working now and there will be eight by the time the project is completed, saying “we’re basically at 25 percent of pumping power.”
Evans said the public works department runs the system and was anticipating the switches would have engaged themselves.
“We quickly learned it was not as automated as we thought it was,” said Evans.
Colleen Herold, who has lived near the intersection of Massachusetts and Melrose avenues close to Fishermen’s Park for 16 years, said Sunday night’s flooding was the worst she’s seen since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“There was over a foot of water on our sidewalk, coming over our yard almost to the house,” she said. “It stayed that way a good part of the evening.”
She was afraid the pumps were simply ineffective, so when she heard they hadn’t been activated she was relieved but disappointed.
“I just think it’s unfortunate — this being the first major event — there wasn’t proper training,” Herold said. “It’s just a shame. Hopefully for the next event the city knows what it’s doing.”
In contrast, she said Monday morning’s flood waters met in the middle of her street, but started receding at about 8:30 a.m. That was soon after the pumps were turned on.
Evans said he was impressed how well the system worked once engaged. The pumps would have easily handled weekend tidal flooding, had they been turned on, he said.
Press of Atlantic City Meteorologist Joe Martucci said weekend flood levels never got beyond the minor level, although Sunday night’s high tide was just inches under moderate level.
Once city workers turned the pumps on at 8 a.m. Monday, it took about an hour to make a big difference in water levels on the streets, Evans said.
By 10 a.m. Monday, a reporter toured the streets in the canal’s catch basin area, and they were dry except in isolated pockets. But even wet areas were passable.
The Ducktown and Chelsea neighborhoods south do not drain into the canal, so it will not help roads, like Fairmount Avenue, which often floods badly around Florida and Texas avenues. Those areas near the bay continued to flood Monday.
Evans said he “gets goosebumps thinking what this thing can do (once more pumps are installed) after I have seen what two pumps can do.”
It was the first time the system was used during a storm, Evans said.
“We are still getting people trained and qualified,” he said. “We have a couple.”
He promised city workers will turn it on promptly in the future, even if a storm hits on a weekend again.
“There are enough people now paying attention to this it will be operating,” Evans said.