Rivermere Repair Tab At $400,000
Jessica Haines dabs at her forehead after confiscating a piggy bank from her nephew, Charlie Pettersen, 3, as her own daughter Lexus, 3, reaches toward the piggy bank, which belongs to Jess’ older son, Dylan. Haines and Lexus were in their new apartment at Rivermere, next door to their old one. The flooding earlier this month displaced her and several other Rivermere residents from their homes, but some have been able to move to empty, undamaged units within the affordable housing complex. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Melissa Pettersen, of Enfield, carries her sister Jessica Haines’ plants into a new unit at Rivermere Community Housing in Lebanon on Monday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — The raw sound of packing tape being unspooled carried through the open front door of unit 3 at the Rivermere Community Housing Development yesterday afternoon. Inside, resident Jessica Haines radiated physical and emotional fatigue.
“It’s been overwhelming,’’ said Haines, whose two-story dwelling took on a couple inches of mud and water beginning late on July 1 and continuing into the next day. “I was panicking and crying and I tried to make a barricade of boxes and bags to keep it in the kitchen and out of the living room. It didn’t work.
“I’m very thankful they put us in a hotel, because otherwise, I don’t know where we would have gone.”
Displaced to West Lebanon’s Baymont Inn and Suites for two weeks, Haines had been back at her apartment for only a few hours yesterday, preparing to move next door to unit 4, which sits a few inches higher, sustained less damage and was vacant before the storm. She is grateful to shift into another space, but the quaver in her voice betrayed the strain of a tumultuous past year.
“I’ve been crying today,’’ Haines said, glancing around at stacks of boxes, haphazardly-placed furniture and small piles of clothes. “I’m just a very sensitive person and with all that’s gone on in the past year, it’s been hard.”
Rivermere was a key piece of the social safety net for Haines and other residents, but now it needs some mending of its own, and the costs will be significant.
Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines Housing Trust, which owns and operates Rivermere, said yesterday that four of the complex’s 21 units were unoccupied at the time of the storm and that residents from the most badly damaged spaces are in the process of moving into them. That leaves three families in temporary housing, Winter said, two in a hotel and one at a different Twin Pines-managed property. Bringing the development back to full occupancy won’t be cheap.
“We’re looking at about a $400,000 bill,’’ for the Rivermere damage, said Winter, adding that the complex doesn’t sit in a mapped flood plain and therefore was not insured for water or mud damage. “We’re in the process of quantifying that exactly and seeing where we are in terms of filling that financial hole.”
Winter said Twin Pines has taken in $63,000 in private donations since the storm and he’s hopeful funds from city and state resources, as well as from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, will cover the rest. He estimated that Rivermere site work will cost about $250,000 and that cleaning and repairing units will cost at least $100,000.
“It’s a challenging time, but I feel confident that with the support we’ve already seen from the community and with the strong support of our city and state-level partners, we’ll get (Rivermere) reconstructed quickly,’’ Winter said. He added that Twin Pines also receives some funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which considers Lebanon a rural area.
Winter said a major hurdle is rebuilding the detention pond and runoff channel on the hill above Rivermere.
“It’s our intention to work closely with the city on the redesign of Slayton Hill Road,’’ Winter said, referring to a nearby road closed to all but residents because of storm damage. “You can be quite sure we’re going to rebuild the drainage channel in a more robust way.”
In the meantime, Haines continues with the task of rebuilding her life. The convenience store worker said she bounced between New Hampshire and Massachusetts residences while growing up, graduating from high school in the latter state during 2001. She and the father of her 3-year old daughter, Lexus, “went through a few different jobs” and were evicted from a different Lebanon apartment when they couldn’t pay the rent. That led to a year of homelessness and an eventual stop at The Haven in White River Junction.
Haines said she applied for a Rivermere apartment in February and found out she’d been accepted for it in May. She and Lexus moved in June 13, but the joy of once again having a home was soon eclipsed by the rising muck in their backyard.
“It was really cute out here,’’ Haines said, stepping out the rear of her apartment and gazing at a massive, unsightly berm of sand, rocks and dirt. The bank was hastily constructed by bulldozers in the storm’s aftermath, replacing what had been a nicely-landscaped area with grass and pebbled walkways. “After being homeless for so long, it was such a wonderful relief to come here. But then this happened and it was a feeling of ‘Here we go, again.’ ”
Late on the night of July 1, Haines was doing some laundry and thinking about getting some sleep when she stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and neighbors alerted her to the rising water. The flooding was fed by runoff from Slayton Hill, which rises out of the backyards of Haines and her neighbors. The memory continues to unnerve her.
“There’s always the fear it’s going to happen again,’’ Haines said. “But I try not to let myself worry about it.”
Experiencing the same edginess is Rivermere resident Amy Blanchette, 27, who lives across the parking lot in a row of apartments that didn’t experience flooding. She and her fiancee, Brian Alexander, and their 18-month-old daughter, Ava, were displaced to the Baymont Inn and Suites but were able to return last week.
Monday, Blanchette said it was uplifting to see some of her neighbors also return but that they share a concern about another storm.
“People are nervous and scared and I don’t blame them,’’ Blanchette said. “I don’t think (flooding) is going to happen again, but you never know with nature. It was just such a helpless feeling to see what happened.”
As Blanchette spoke, she gestured in the direction of a 45-foot-long Dumpster in the parking lot not far from Haines’ front door. Its contents included plastic sheeting, mangled cardboard boxes and a pile of ruined mattresses and box springs. Lexus, who was staying with her father the night of the storm, hadn’t yet seen the damage and doesn’t understand its magnitude, Haines said yesterday.
She would like to focus on making her daughter feel at home and on moving their possessions, but working long hours at the nearby Maplefields convenience store makes that difficult. Still, Haines has gotten to know her fellow residents better and is grateful for ones like Blanchette, who has offered to help her move next door.
“The neighbors here are incredible,” Blanchette said, pointing down a sidewalk toward where one woman was helping another pick clothes from a bag she had brought by. “Everyone’s come together and had this natural concern for each other. Now, you know that if anything happens, they have your back.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.