John Gregg: Road Repairs Ahead

Thursday, August 08, 2013
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., toured the flood damage along Slayton Hill Road in Lebanon Wednesday, meeting with residents who praised the city’s response but also expressed frustration that they aren’t getting federal help to repair their private homes.

“This is the first time in our lives that we’re asking for assistance, and we’re being turned down,” said Don Bourgeois, who said his Dulac Street home at the Slayton Hill intersection suffered more than $10,000 in damage to landscaping and his driveway. Thomas Dubuque, who said he had been hoping to sell his Slayton Hill Road home in the spring before heavy rains on July 1 and 2 led to the washout of his driveway and damage to a handsome 50-year-old stone wall on his property, said the city’s installation of a temporary water line and patch to his driveway helped, but worried about a more permanent fix.

“If they don’t get that fixed by winter, it’s going to be a problem,” he said of the exposed water line.

Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos, who is helping oversee the city’s recovery efforts, said a new design for the road is expected later this month, with a neighborhood “walkabout” to assess the plan to follow. Construction would start by early fall, he said.

“I’ve been told that the construction plan right now is to have the water main replaced and the road completely restored by December, with the follow-up work (such as a final asphalt layer)” in the spring, Christopoulos said.

But while the city itself, and the Rivermere housing project that was also damaged by the flooding, are likely to land federal aid to rebuild, residents don’t qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency money because fewer than 100 homes were damaged in Grafton County, said New Hampshire Director of Homeland Security Perry Plummer, who joined Shaheen on the tour.

After walking up Slayton Hill Road, talking to residents, and poking around a damaged unit at Rivermere, Shaheen told reporters she thinks Washington needs to be “more creative” in looking at how it invests in roads and bridges and responds after a disaster.

“One of the things I think we’ve got to look at as we are looking at this kind of weather emergency happening more often is how we provide assistance to communities, and how we help individual homeowners because their needs are every bit as great as some of the other needs in the community, and it’s heartbreaking to hear some of the stories from people who don’t have the money to fix what’s happened to them,” she said.

“I also think we need to look at the mitigation issue, and also the extent to which when you build back, whether it’s a home or the road, the requirement that things have to be built the way they were exactly, because one of the things we learn in response to some of these storms is how to do it better, so I think we need to look at a number of these provisions in the emergency dollars.”

Among the city and housing officials who joined Shaheen was low-profile Lebanon Mayor Georgia Tuttle, whose medical practice is around the corner on Mechanic Street. Tuttle said this was the first time she had viewed the damage on Slayton Hill Road because she had not wanted to interfere with repair efforts on the narrow road.

“I didn’t want to get in the way of people here,” she said.

Senate Race Ahead

Shaheen, of course, is up for re-election next year, with possible challengers including state Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Etna Republican Jim Rubens. Rubens, a former state senator, on Wednesday said he is getting a “better reaction than I thought because, like I say, I’m not an inside-the-box Republican.” Besides trying to appeal to women and young voters and deal with such issues as Social Security and Medicare, Rubens is forthright in saying he regards recent revelations about domestic gathering of phone records by the National Security Agency to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment and “clearly chilling our rights under the First Amendment” as well.

“I’m very concerned about it,” Rubens said. “We now know both from the leaks and the rulings that are proceeding up from the courts how the NSA has been seizing the effects of hundreds of millions of Americans for whom there is no probable cause.”

Asked about the surveillance matter, Shaheen, who sits on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said this: “I was surprised at the extent of the data that’s been gathered. I think one of the things that needs to happen is the public needs to be made more aware of the specifics of the program and what’s being done and the oversight that is involved ... I think that will be helpful in providing some reassurance to some people about how the program is operated. That’s the issues I’ve been most concerned about.”

Briefly Noted

Norwich resident Jane Watson Stetson, the former national finance chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has been doting on a 10-week-old grandson this summer. But could Paris be in her future? The Washington Post last month reported that President Obama might nominate Stetson, the granddaughter of the founder of IBM, to be ambassador to France. It’s a post her father, Arthur K. Watson, held in the early 1970s.