Quantifying a Calamity: FEMA Officials Assess Lebanon Storm Damage for Federal Aid
Shelley Hadfield, left, of Meriden, examines flood damage with Katherine Bond, right, of FEMA on Farr Road in Lebanon yesterday. Hadfield is a consultant for the City of Lebanon, serving as a liaison to FEMA. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
From left, Andrew Winter of Twin Pines Housing Trust, Katherine Bond of FEMA, and Paul Hatch of New Hampshire Emergency Management discuss the damage from recent flooding to the Rivermere housing complex in Lebanon Tuesday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Officials on Tuesday survey damage behind the Rivermere housing complex in Lebanon caused by last week’s flooding. From left are Mike Lavalla, director of Public Works for Lebanon, John Roe of the Twin Pines Housing Trust, Paul Hatch of New Hampshire Emergency Management, Andrew Winter of Twin Pines Housing Trust and Katherine Bond of FEMA. The group spent the day touring sites throughout the city. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford selectboard members and West Hartford Library trustees break ground for the new library in front of the flood-damaged structure on Monday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Officials from three tiers of government toured the city Tuesday in the first round of collaborative flood damage assessment, with cost estimates already approaching $3 million, far more than the threshold to trigger federal relief aid.
The convoy of functionaries traversed the city to review the worst of the damage caused during last week’s heavy rain. Lebanon officials anticipate having an estimated cost for the total damages incurred by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, municipal officials in Windsor and Plainfield also were coordinating with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as they continued to assess damaged roads.
According to Lebanon Public Works Director Mike Lavalla, the preliminary estimate to rebuild Slayton Hill Road, which saw the most extensive damage, is at $2.3 million.
Lavalla told FEMA Project Specialist Katherine Bond that city engineers have been “sort of forensically looking at what happened in the storm, and what was the intensity.
“Most likely, we may have to up-size some of the (drainage) structures because we seem to be getting more frequent and more intense storms,” he said.
About a quarter-mile up Slayton Hill Road on Tuesday, government officials observed the now-quiet, nameless brook that served as a trigger point for last week’s flooding events. The brook flows beneath the road through an old concrete culvert about three-feet wide, and presumably looked just as it had before the storm, aside from piled-high debris and the scent of wet sand that still clung to the air.
Lavalla wore a white helmet with an American flag sticker pasted on the back. He detailed to Bond how the rainwater had inundated the brook last Tuesday afternoon and washed out down the hill, only to be directed down a separate channel and slam into the back of the Rivermere apartments.
As other FEMA officials snapped pictures of the damage and TV news crews stockpiled footage, Bond asked Lavalla questions about the design of the drainage system and the level of flooding, clarifying that the brook was “supposed to go this way, but it decided to go that way, right?”
“It went both ways,” Lavalla answered, in an indication of just how much water surged over the road.
Lavalla maintained that he doesn’t view the drainage system on Slayton Hill Road as the main culprit in the flooding, but rather the clogging of the culverts and the amount of rain that fell. Nonetheless, Lavalla said that he would be looking at drainage designs, culvert sizing, where rainwater is discharged, and “all sorts of things” for the road’s eventual redesign.
Lavalla said that the culverts are inspected regularly and cleaned when appropriate. He added that there are certain “problem areas” where the culverts are known to clog, and those are checked more frequently.
At Rivermere, Twin Pines Housing Trust Executive Director Andrew Winter said he was in talks with an engineer to determine how extensive of a drainage system could be installed at the housing complex. “Clearly, we need a more robust system than what was here,” said Winter, standing beside a pile of rocks that had been deposited by the floodwaters. “The question is: how much more robust?”
Winter received some welcome news Tuesday when he learned that Rivermere was eligible for federal assistance, given that it’s a public project owned by a nonprofit organization. He estimated the total damage to the complex at about $400,000. Gov. Maggie Hassan will once again visit the flood-damaged areas of Lebanon, including Rivermere, Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
Over the course of the tour, Lavalla was hesitant to offer preliminary cost estimates, but Bond said she needed to gather numbers regardless. At a washed out culvert on Farr Road, which hugs Interstate 89 where Hardy Hill Brook empties out in the Mascoma River, Bond estimated the shoulder erosion and damage to a guardrail there to cost about $5,000 and heard no argument from Lavalla.
Bond described the weather events last week in Lebanon as an “impressive microburst” — two to three inches of rain in less than an hour — and said she was surprised to see some of the damage in areas where she wouldn’t normally expect it, such as the shoulder where Bank Street Extension meets Hardy Hill Road.
“There’s not that much slope feeding into it; there’s not that much road feeding into it, so why did it wash out?” Bond asked, before answering her own question. “Because there was just that much rain.”
Paul Hatch, the Grafton County field representative for New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said there have been 13 state of emergency declarations in the state since 2005.
“Unfortunately, this is getting to be more and more of an occurrence,” he said.
Plainfield also saw significant damage to many roads in town, including Hell Hollow Road, Kenyon Road, Hayward Road, Jordan Road and others. As of Tuesday, all roads except for Hell Hollow Road were open, according to Town Administrator Steve Halleran.
Halleran said that three homes sustained damage from high water and that the town is providing assistance to those homeowners as needed. He added that Plainfield is anticipating assistance from FEMA and that officials from the agency were in town assessing damage Tuesday.
In Windsor, County Road remained closed and a new sink hole had developed Tuesday morning on Hunt Road, which was closed as crews worked to replace a failed culvert, according to Town Manager Tom Marsh.
Marsh said the town officials are “in a bit of a holding pattern,” awaiting word on the rules they will need to follow as they perform road repairs, but he added that he expected FEMA personnel in Windsor on Tuesday to conduct a preliminary assessment there.
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213