Officials Hustle to Repair Roads

  • A car drives past a damaged section of Latham Road in Thetford, Vt., on Aug. 10, 2017. The damage occurred on July 1, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, August 13, 2017

Norwich — Officials in the communities hardest hit by a road-swamping, culvert-breaking July storm are working at full speed to shore up the region’s transportation infrastructure before winter arrives.

In Vermont, town leaders are rushing to prepare engineering work and bid documents even as they wait for President Donald Trump to approve a request from Gov. Phil Scott for a disaster declaration that could unlock millions in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu last week announced that the president had granted a similar request for Grafton County, where officials tallied at least $6 million in damages.

“We clearly, clearly, want to get it all done before we get into winter conditions,” Phil Dechert, the planning and zoning director in Norwich, said of the road work in that town.

Norwich officials hope to have contractors out and repairing the major roads within a few weeks, with work continuing into September or October, Dechert said. “We are definitely under a time constraint.”

Turnpike Road, Tigertown Road and Beaver Meadow Road are focal points for the town’s work, Dechert said, with several washout areas on Beaver Meadow and large sections of single-lane traffic on the other two.

An initial survey by state and federal officials last month led to estimates of about $1.5 million in repair costs in Norwich — a harsher toll, town leaders said, than in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

That assessment wasn’t exhaustive, said Dechert, who estimated the cost could reach $2 million.

In Thetford, the damage was so extensive that one road, Stevens Road, will remain closed indefinitely.

“There’s a big hole,” Selectboard Chairman Stuart Rogers said, “and because of what will likely go in there” — a pre-cast box culvert or some kind of bridge — “we simply cannot get it done this year. Won’t fit into the schedule.”

Rogers said Turnpike Road South will require outside bids, as well as sections of Route 132, which in at least three places is now a one-lane highway controlled by a temporary traffic light.

The cost for the work in Thetford is unclear for now, according to Rogers, who said state and federal officials hadn’t shared with him their tally of the damages. Last month, he said the outlays would likely be in excess of $1 million.

As elsewhere, Thetford employees are working rapidly to make the town’s roads plow-ready, with Nov. 15 “a drop-dead date,” Rogers said.

“We’re trying,” he said. “We’re getting there. We’re realizing that the calendar is ticking.”

Over in Orford, Selectman Paul Goundrey said the town already had spent about $250,000 on repairs, including to the devastated Quinttown Road, which was washed away so thoroughly it “actually looked like a streambed,” he said.

A section of Tillotson Falls Road remains closed, he said, but most other roads in town are in good condition again.

Soon after the storm, the town’s fire chief estimated $4 million to $5 million in damages to public infrastructure there. Orford officials are discussing how they might apply for a loan, if necessary, to help pay for such repairs as the replacement of two major brook crossings, with new bridges, and the rebuilding of various washed-out culverts.

In Lyme, repairs for the first phase of work — making roads safe to drive on and plow — will probably reach about $1 million, said Margaret Caudill-Slosberg, the town’s emergency management director.

The next phase will be to evaluate how to “prevent this from happening again,” she said, given that many of the same roads have washed out before. That will involve looking at mitigation efforts alongside FEMA officials and forming a better understanding of water flow and culvert needs, she said.

That work would come from a different pool of money and likely would occur after preparations for winter, Caudill-Slosberg said.

“At least there was no personal, individual damage,” she said in an interview last week. “It was all infrastructure.”

Many homeowners did find themselves dealing with ruined driveways, however — including Holly Glick and Jonathan Frishtick, of Norwich, who were separated from New Boston Road by a deep canyon opened up by a washed-out culvert.

Like many other families, the Glick-Frishticks lacked flood insurance, which is neither available for many non-flood-designated areas nor included in most homeowners’ policies. The expensive repairs to their driveway, therefore, came out of pocket.

“That’s been a difficult challenge,” Glick said, adding that another concern for the household had been emergency access, which was extremely limited for the past month.

Meanwhile, FEMA disaster aid is expected to reimburse about 75 percent of municipalities’ repair costs, with the remainder split roughly equally between towns and states.

Even with only an anticipated 12.5 percent to come from Norwich, Dechert said, town officials are working to minimize any financial effect on residents.

“We’ll do everything possible to keep the budgets level and keep the spending level and not create a large burden,” he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.