Another Day, Another Punch: Grafton County Storm Damage Total Reaches $3.5 Million
Tim Hebb moves gravel down Pero Hill Road in Thetford on Wednesday after a flash flood made that road, Sawnee Bean Road and Barker Road impassable. Neighbors turned out with their own heavy equipment to fix the roads. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Listen employees Stephanie Kalina, left, and Katie Emery fill orders at its food pantry in Lebanon Wednesday. Supplies are diminishing at the pantry since they took on 23 additional families affected by recent flooding. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Paul Stratton, supervisor of Department of Transportation District 4, positions a truck to dump a load of rock to fill in a washed out shoulder on Route 14 in Royalton. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Damage estimates for Grafton County rose to $3.5 million Wednesday as Gov. Maggie Hassan revisited the city’s hardest-hit areas and knocked on the doors of residents to check in on the recovery.
The governor’s return visit came as another wave of heavy showers swept across the Upper Valley, disrupting roads in Randolph, Bethel, Thetford, Tunbridge and Norwich.
Hassan spoke with impacted residents on Tannery Lane and Dulac Street, offering tips on how to attract as many federal dollars as possible. She was alongside Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Perry Plummer, who provided updated cost estimates for countywide damage that he said largely centered in Lebanon.
Plummer and the governor had just come from Claremont, where damage is estimated at about $600,000.
At the corner of Slayton Hill Road and Dulac Street, resident Donald Bourgeois grinned as he waited for Hassan to cross the intersection.
“Governor,” Bourgeois said. “We meet again.”
Bourgeois updated Hassan on the rehabilitation efforts yet to take place on his property, which was damaged heavily in the Slayton Hill Road wash-out. He had just gotten the permit clearance he was waiting for with the assistance of Plummer, and told Hassan he planned to “make some massive improvements” Thursday.
“I’m watching the skies and trying to do our best to pray that the rain stays away,” Hassan answered.
In an interview, Bourgeois, an electrical engineer, said he built his home on Dulac Street 20 years ago. Unlike other residents who said Slayton Hill Road has always had drainage problems, Bourgeois said that it was after the road was completely reconstructed that a real issue emerged.
“Before, with the old road, it might have had heaves and cracks but it had a big huge large ditch,” Bourgeois said. “That ditch could handle an enormous amount of water.”
Bourgeois said a culvert that empties onto his property from the bottom of Slayton Hill Road had “never had an issue” before the road’s redesign, but has been “continually failing repeatedly” ever since.
Public Works Director Mike Lavalla said in an email last night that the reconstruction of Slayton Hill Road was already under way when he joined the department in 2002, “so I don’t have any history myself on any differences in pre and post construction drainage.
“The design and construction, observation (and) inspection of the reconstruction was accomplished by a professional engineering firm engaged by the city,” Lavalla said.
Bourgeois said he raised his concerns under the city’s prior administration and the current one, and added that he has long been in contact with Lavalla about the drainage problems. He said he spoke to civil engineers that typically do road projects who told him the culverts were undersized.
“This is a rainy spell, granted, but should two inches of rain take out a road? No,” Bourgeois said. “Everyone knows that’s a no, so it’s obvious. It’s a drainage problem; it’s been a drainage problem, and that’s why they’ve got to rectify it.”
Road crews and emergency responders scrambled yet again yesterday afternoon as up to three inches of rain fell on parts of the Upper Valley, flooding brooks and streams onto roadways across the region.
Route 12 in Randolph was closed at Howard Hill Road around 4 p.m. because of flooding, and state officials also warned motorists to use caution as they drove on Route 14 in the Bethel and Royalton area because of “water across the road in places.”
Just before 6 p.m. yesterday, rain runoff pushed mud and debris into a culvert near mile marker 8.8 on Route 14, forcing water across the road where it eroded a large hole on the opposite shoulder. Around 7 p.m. a crew from the Vermont Agency of Transportation worked to restore the washed-out area, removing the other end of the culvert to stabilize the bank with large rocks before reinserting the black tube so it could direct rain runoff into the rising White River.
Paul Stratton, a supervisor with the state’s transportation agency, said he has been patching roads and unplugging culverts for a week now.
“If the rain would just let up and let things dry up that would help an awful lot,” Stratton said.
The rain overwhelmed a culvert near Pero Hill Road in Thetford, causing a washout that cascaded down the hill and temporarily closed the intersection near Barker and Sawnee Bean Roads. The washout also temporarily stranded state Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford, who lives on Pero Hill and was driving home with a carload of baby chicks.
And a lightning strike was blamed for a house fire at 96 Center of Town Road in Plainfield. Homeowner Doug Cogan said he heard a sound akin to a lightbulb shattering, and then it happened again.
“There’s no question it was a lightning strike,” Cogan said. Firefighters climbed a ladder in heavy rain to cut a hole in the attic to help extinguish the fire.
There was also minimal erosion on New Boston Road and Upper Turnpike Road in Norwich and minor flooding along Route 110 near the Tunbridge Fire Station. Norwich Town Manager Neil Fulton said the damage didn’t cause road closures and public works crews will patch the areas during normal work hours today.
The problems arose as a wave of storms — a familiar sight and sound to Twin State residents this summer — rolled through the area around 3:45 p.m.
“We had a cluster of showers and thunderstorms move through that produced very heavy rainfall amounts of one to three inches in about one to two hours,” said Brooke Taber, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington.
As the rain continues to fall, long-term recovery committee Upper Valley Strong is still seeking donations, supplies and volunteer labor. They camped out in the Lebanon High School cafeteria from noon to 8 p.m. yesterday with representatives from the American Red Cross, Upper Valley Haven, Listen Community Services, the City of Lebanon and the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, offering clean-up advice and explaining the resources available to those affected by recent floods, including rent assistance through the city of Lebanon.
“Right now we’re just assessing how much need there is to see how much we need to ramp up,” said Jennifer Fontaine, director of community services at the Upper Valley Haven and a sitting Upper Valley Strong committee member.
The recovery committee’s volunteer coordinator, Anne Goodrich, said the group is still receiving calls for clean-up assistance and is waiting to get a final count before disaster relief crews, called Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, can swoop into the area to accomplish a lot in a small window of time.
“Before you have them come in you need to make sure you have all your cases lined up,” Goodrich said.
By late afternoon yesterday, less than a dozen people had trickled through the Lebanon High School cafeteria. Some were Rivermere residents and others homeowners on Slayton Hill Road.
Christina French and her roommate, Kelley, hitched a ride from a friend to the high school to check out the available resources. They’ve been staying at the Baymont Inn since last Monday when they were evacuated from their apartment in the Rivermere affordable housing complex in Lebanon. The two came to the high school looking for information about food resources and were told to visit the Upper Valley Haven and the Listen Community Services pantry.
Listen Executive Director Merilynn Bourne said the pantry is running low on supplies after last week’s flash flooding displaced families in the Upper Valley. They’ve asked the community to help them replenish their shelves with the staples — peanut butter, pasta and pasta sauce, cereal, tuna and soup. L.L. Bean in West Lebanon is holding a food drive this week and will deliver their collection to the pantry Friday. “We’re doing our part to help in this little mess,” Bourne said.
Those hoping to volunteer or donate should visit uvstrong.org.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.