Rancocas Creek cleanup begins

BURLINGTON COUNTY, N.J. - September 25, 2008 In an effort to clean it up and limit future flooding, a team of engineers, underwater divers, riggers and tree cutters has been collecting and hauling as much as 60 tons of debris out of the Rancocas Creek in Lumberton, Medford, and Southampton.

"Tree limbs that are 50-75 feet long, that are 3 to 4 feet wide in diameter. We're pulling tires out, some objects that are so rusted out you cant even see what's there, things that have been clogging up this creek for decades," Bridge commission chairman John Comengo said.

One part of a tree pulled out while Action News was on the scene weighed 4,800 pounds. The cleanup is a multi-million dollar project being paid for by the Burlington County Bridge Commission. The county is covering the cost of hauling the debris away and disposing of it.

"In this economic time, most of these communities don't have the millions of dollars to do this kind of cleanup," freeholder director Aubrey Fenton (R) said.

The process is time-consuming and labor intensive and must adhere to strict environmental regulations not to disturb the creek bottom or banks.

"We have people in the stream that are doing this operation by hand. You have to disassemble these stream dams piece by piece," project manager Richard Moody said.

And if the debris can't be removed right there?

"Float it downstream sometimes as far as 3,000 feet to an area where we can get a crane or piece of machinery that can lift them out of the stream," contractor Jim Streif said.

Flooding over the last several years has caused at least $25 million worth of damages in the area, wiping out some families more than once.

"To those people every time it rains, every time you see 3 to 4 inches of rain their shoulders go up, their anxiety level goes through the roof. This is important to them to get the creek healthy again," Mayor Pat Delany (R) of Lumberton, New Jersey said.

Flood victim Iris Candiello of Vincentown, who can see creek debris from her backyard, says the cleanup is long overdue.

"I think it will make a difference. I think it'll let the creek flow further and deeper," Candiello said.

Because the process is so slow and complicated, it will take time to clean all the 8 to 10 miles that have been targeted. Officials say the project should be finished sometime next year.

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