ATLANTIC CITY — The resort can thank its great-great-grandparents for installing a major flood control system more than 100 years ago.
Now that system, called the Baltic Avenue Canal, works again after about 50 years of sitting damaged and ineffective.
The canal is a 1.8-mile concrete underground tunnel, which drains a 775-acre area on Atlantic, Arctic and Baltic Avenues and surrounding streets.
It runs from Atlantis Avenue and the bay near the Atlantic City Expressway to Fishermen’s Park in the Inlet, with floodgates at each end.
The system worked well for its first 50 years, but in the 1960s the wooden flood gates broke, were vandalized and set on fire, said Jim Rutala, of Linwood’s Rutala Associates. He is the grants consultant for the city, who helped get about $13 million in state and federal funding for the project.
The project includes replacing the flood gates and installing huge pumps at each end, so the city can control how much water goes in and out of the tunnel.
When the gates were broken, storm water could rush into the canal, filling it and overflowing into streets. Now the flood gates will prevent that, and the pumps will move water out of the canal during storms.
“The reality was any time I’d got to a first ward civic association meeting, one of the first complaints I heard was, ‘What are you going to do about flooding?’,” said Mayor Frank Gilliam at a ribbon cutting for $5.5 million of the work at Fishermen’s Park in the First Ward.
The renovated canal will reduce flooding from Ducktown to the Inlet, Gilliam said. He credited a partnership between the city, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Gilliam said U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo, R-2, helped secure funding.
“This is a bittersweet situation for me, with not running for re-election and leaving office in a couple of months,” said LoBiondo. He recently cut the ribbon on the new sea wall and boardwalk in the Inlet, “which was 20 years in coming. And now this is another one.
“It’s guaranteed to last you years and years to come,” said LoBiondo.
So far both timber flood gates have been replaced with stainless steel gates, and two large pumps have been installed at the Fishermen’s Park end, which drains into an open canal and the bay.
The first phase was a $1 million project to replace the flood gate at Atlantis Avenue, while the second phase was the $5.5 million project to do pumps and a new gate at Fishermen’s Park.
Another six large pumps will be installed in the next $6.5 million phase of the project, which is expected to take about two years, said Rutala.
The canal, which is about 10 feet wide and high, and has walls 2 feet thick, was an engineering marvel when it was built in 1912 for $840,000. It took just 18 months to construct.
“If we were to build it today, it would cost about $20 million,” Rutala said.
It has the capacity to hold 1.2 million cubic feet of water, said Edward Dennis Jr., of Remington & Vernick Engineers in Pleasantville, who managed the project for the city.
“You could park 500 jitneys from end to end inside the canal,” he said.
Dennis said the two pumps at the Fishermen’s Park end can move 58,000 gallons of water per minute out of the system.
Once all pumps are installed, the system “should be able to keep up with almost any storm,” with the exception of major hurricanes, said Dennis.
The recent installation of the first two pumps should virtually stop tidal flooding in most of the city, Dennis said. Now common in many neighborhoods, tidal flooding — also called nuisance flooding — is caused by higher tides coinciding with full moons or rain storms.
“The next full moon is the 26th, so we should see something different 10 days from today,” said Rutala.
Neighborhood residents Libbie Wills and Wilbur Fields said they have dealt with nuisance flooding for years.
Wills asked when the system will become automated, since now the gates and pumps have to be activated on site.
Dennis said it should happen in about six months.
“I’ve lived here 20 years,” Fields said of the Inlet area. “Flooding has happened more often recently than when I first came in.”
A warming climate and sea level rise are the likely culprits, he said.
Fields said he’s happy to see the project is done, but he’s holding off on celebrating just yet.
“We’re definitely going to find out if it works,” he said. But after watching the pumps in action at the ribbon cutting, he had some faith.
“It probably will work — the way that son of a gun was pumping out that water,” he said.