The restoration last year of the massive drainage canal beneath Baltic Avenue in Atlantic City is an early landmark in this new era of flood mitigation for Jersey Shore communities. Even as the state and federal government develop proposals for reducing back-bay flooding on barrier islands, the return to service of this 107-year-old engineering marvel shows cost-effective tools are available.
The simple design allows rainwater drainage to overcome the blockage of high tides, a common problem on the islands.
Stormwater from city streets drains into a 1.8-mile-long concrete tank beneath Baltic Avenue, where up to 1.2 million cubic feet of it can be held until the tide turns lower. Then pumps empty it into the back bay near Gardener’s Basin.
The canal isn’t fully operational but already is reducing nuisance flooding in a 775-acre section of Atlantic City. Six more pumps are being added to the two currently working and they’ll empty much of the water into the bay near the Atlantic City Expressway.
Since the canal already existed, thanks to city officials in 1912 who realized it would mitigate flooding for at least a half a century, restoring it and fitting it with pumps cost a very reasonable $13 million — with the first phase paid entirely by federal and state grants.
There’s just one problem.
The rainwater running into drains in city streets carries with it lots of trash, which then goes with the water into the back bay, past the Gardener’s Basin park and into Absecon Inlet. This pollution — mostly fast-food items such as bottles and food containers — is an eyesore in those waterways and builds up along decks and bulkheads. Owners of homes and businesses have been scooping up as much as they can with nets and pleading with the city to do something about it.
This is going to sound odd, but making this pollution more visible is actually another service of the flood-mitigation canal.
All that trash and inappropriate material has been going into the drains on Atlantic City streets for many years. Before the canal, the storm sewers just dumped it gradually into the nearest waterway, contributing to the global scourge of plastic pollution in the ocean. Now this unacceptable and probably illegal ocean dumping is harder to ignore.
Problem No. 1 is that many of Atlantic City’s street storm drains don’t meet current standards for preventing trash and pollution from entering the storm sewers. The city and state long ago should have updated the grilles on the drains to ones that keep out such debris.
Problem No. 2 is that Atlantic City has nothing like the number of trash receptacles on its streets that it needs. Every city needs to provide convenient cans for people to do the right thing and toss their garbage into a basket or bin and their recyclables into a separate container. And convenient means more than one trash can on each side of a city block where foot traffic is significant.
Nearly all of the trash in the waterways from the Baltic Avenue Canal should be going into bins, gathered by trash trucks and taken to the landfill or recycling center. Once the city does that, probably with help from the state, then it might be time to consider whether some form of canal outfall screen could catch the small amount of garbage that eludes normal handling.