Storm Rips Roads in Lebanon
Gov. Hassan Tours City, Expects Help
Chuck Robson walks up Slayton Road to gather items from his home before finding temporary accomodations elsewhere in Lebanon, N.H., on July 3, 2013. Robson had not been to his home on Slayton Road since leaving for work on Tuesday morning.
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High Meadow Builders Construction Worker Randy Welch shovels mud from a client's home on Forest Ave. in Lebanon after Tuesday's flood. The builders were scheduled to come to the home to install a garage door and instead worked on the driveway, which became the priority.
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Governor Maggie Hassan talks with city and state officials at the Rivermere housing complex in Lebanon after flash flooding flooded a number of the units, residents have been evacuated from the complex.
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Lebanon — Public Works and utility crews hauled tons of dirt and sawed off trees still clinging to power lines on a washed-out Slayton Hill Road yesterday in what is sure to be a long, citywide cleanup process.
“It’s incredible to see the power of nature,” Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said yesterday of the nearly two inches of rainfall that drenched the city in a 45-minute period late Tuesday afternoon.
Gov. Maggie Hassan toured some of Lebanon’s worst-hit areas with the fire chief, peering into muddy apartments at Rivermere and gazing up at the pile of sand and gravel that had accumulated at the intersection of Slayton Hill Road and Dulac Street. She said that the city bore the brunt of an estimated $2 million or more in statewide storm damage.
Up in the distance, Slayton Hill Road resembled a cratered landscape from a post-apocalyptic film. Hassan called the damage “devastating.
“There are also great signs of the resilience of Granite Staters,” said Hassan, who declared a state of emergency yesterday around 6 a.m.
Dozens of roads were damaged throughout the city in Tuesday’s flooding, including major thoroughfares such as Route 120, which was closed for much of yesterday but expected to be re-opened late in the evening. Lebanon officials said most July 4 activities will proceed as planned, but that tonight’s fireworks display had to be postponed.
Earlier in the day, John Balch walked with his wife and two kids down what was left of Slayton Hill Road, where they have lived for 18 years. Balch, a plumber, said that he has always felt there was poor drainage along the road.
He said that when the road was rebuilt about 10 years ago, work crews at the time told him that they needed to dig the ditches on the side of the road seven or eight feet deep to provide proper drainage.
“And they didn’t, and the water has never run down the ditches,” Balch said. “It never has. It has always run down the road, and here we are.”
Balch pointed to rolling patterns in the pavement, which he said were caused by runoff, and added that when water courses over the road, it starts the long process of tearing it apart.
“Eventually it will find a crack, it will start picking the tar up,” Balch said. “Water is one of the most incredible forces of nature.”
Balch also took exception with the grade of the road, which he said was never “crowned” to give it a slight mound-like shape that would help divert water to the ditches.
“If they would have had proper drainage, this never would have happened,” he said.
Public Works Director Mike Lavalla said his department has always been aware of a drainage issue on Slayton Hill Road, but added that, given the nature of the watershed in the area, “It’s just a very wet area.”
Lavalla confirmed that the road was rebuilt about 10 years ago, but contended that even with deeper ditches, material and debris can wash into the culverts and clog up the drainage systems. The clogging of culverts, he said, was the main culprit in the road’s wash-out.
Earl Jette, who lives on Slayton Hill Road and is a member of the city’s Planning Board, was also walking along the road yesterday that he has called home since the 1970s. Jette said that the rainwater overflowed from two brooks that share the same watershed up on the hill above the road.
Jette said that the soil near Slayton Hill Road contains a lot of clay, so it saturates quickly and can lead to the sort of wash-outs seen on Tuesday.
Lavalla said that the nature of the soil may have been a “component” in the flooding, but said it wasn’t a major factor.
“I think the main issue that contributed to it is just all the rain that we’ve had this spring and early summer,” Lavalla said. “Everything is just overly saturated, and anything that fell just immediately ran off. It couldn’t absorb anymore.”
Pauline St. Pierre, 88 years-old, said she has lived on Cross Road near Slayton Hill Road all her life, and remembers when it wasn’t even paved.
St. Pierre said her house didn’t suffer any damage in the flooding, but she “got nosy” and walked down to see what had happened on the nearby road. What she found, said St. Pierre, was unlike anything she had seen before, and it wasn’t a pleasant sight.
“It hurts,” St. Pierre said. “It hurts to see that.”
Over on Forest Avenue, Clare and Jim Seidensticker, who have lived there for 35 years, did their best to manage the flooding on their own terms.
Jim Seidensticker had begun heaping mud and rocks that were washed up onto his lawn into a wheelbarrow, transferring the material into a 4-foot crevasse that had formed in the lawn beside his house where the stone bulkhead collapsed. A curious housecat, belonging to a neighbor, gingerly stepped across the upheaved rocks and earth.
Asked to share his game-plan for restoring his property, Seidensticker answered, “I don’t have a clue.
“What I’m going to do now is clean some of this area up,” he said, both looking and sounding exasperated.
Across the street, Richard Hardy, who has lived in Lebanon for 25 years, described the scene that unfolded when the late-afternoon downpour created a mini-river that cascaded across his property.
“At the end of our driveway, it looked like there were a couple of firehoses going off,” Hardy said. “It was just an incredible blast of water coming down over the edge of our property. I could see the damage being done down there.”
The water had rushed up to the concrete foundation of Hardy’s basement, just inches away from breaching his cellar door.
“If it had kept up for another 15 minutes, we would have just gotten flooded out,” he said. “But fortunately it peaked and stopped.”
Don Collins, a long-time friend of Hardy’s, was coordinating two workers who were shoveling rocky mud into wheelbarrows in Hardy’s washed-out driveway.
Collins, who runs a construction company, said he only does the sort of work he was doing yesterday for close friends in an emergency. But he still found time to rib at his buddy, asking, “So, do you want us to put wings on your car so you can fly out of here?”
Christopoulos, the fire chief, said that Slayton Hill Road was the “most impacted” area of the city in terms of damage, but he couldn’t say when the crews might be able to get to work there.
“We don’t have the resources to really attack Slayton Hill right at this time and it’s up to when we get (engineering figures) and drawings back, and when we can start the process to do it right,” he said.
But Christopoulos could not offer any sort of timeline.
“We’re trying to be realistic,” he said.
Many residents on Slayton Hill Road were without power or water yesterday evening, but Christopoulos said that temporary power and water service is likely to be set up at some point.
“I don’t know when that’s going to take place,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of the engineers.”
Earlier in the day, Hassan said that she had seen more than $2 million in damage while touring western New Hampshire, much of it in Lebanon.
“Before yesterday afternoon, we were close to the federal threshold (for emergency aid), which is $2 million dollars,” Hassan said. “We think we’re over that at this point, but again, until we get the exact numbers, we don’t know for sure.”
Christopoulos, like other city officials, could not offer any cost estimates yesterday, but indicated that Hassan’s number was likely accurate.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem, unfortunately, hitting that $2 million threshold,” he said.
The flooding means that the Fourth of July celebration this year will have a little less bang than usual.
“Storrs Hill, our fireworks launch and prime viewing site, sustained major damage during the storms. When needed repairs are able to be made, we will announce a very special fireworks show make-up date,” the city said in an emailed alert to residents.
The town of Randolph also cancelled its fireworks display “due to unfavorable conditions at the field. No fireworks will be held this weekend,” the town said on its website. Hanover and Hartford were spared major damage.
Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said Etna Highlands Road suffered a “significant washout,” which could cost about $100,000 to repair fully, but that the road had been reopened. Griffin was heading to Lebanon yesterday afternoon to help staff the emergency operations center so that Christopoulos could be freed up to help brief Hassan on recovery efforts.
Hartford Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg said there were just some “minor washouts/washovers on roads” in his town, and that the Hartford Department of Public Works “will be lending Lebanon a couple of trucks, a front-end loader, and associated operators on Friday.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.