State Responds To Flood Issue

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By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, June 30, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

HAMPTON -- State officials came before the Hampton board of selectmen Monday night to discuss a dam and culvert situated near I-95 in the Taylor River, and what part they may or may not have played in the flooding caused by the mid-May rainstorms.

During his initial presentation, Bureau of Turnpikes Administrator Harvey Goodwin used a small laser pointer as he referred to several photographs (enlarged and posted on the walls of the selectmen's meeting room) which were taken of the I-95/ Taylor River area during the storm.

Present in the audience were Taylor River Estates residents, whose homes were directly affected by the flood waters which quickly rose then quickly receded around Mother's Day.

Since the storms occurred, a number of residents have maintained that the flow of water through the dam and culvert was somehow obstructed, causing the extensive damage they experienced to their homes.

Goodwin provided descriptions, dimensions and a brief history of the two structures, both maintained by the state's Department of Transportation (DOT). A nearby fish ladder, which some maintain also may have played a part in the flooding, is solely managed by the state's Fish & Game Department.

Three years ago, the Louis Berger Group consulting engineers conducted a state-wide culvert inspection project, Goodwin explained. At that time, in April 2003, they predicted two years' remaining service life in the pipe.

A dam inspection conducted by the Department of Environmental Services in July 2004 reclassified the dam from a "Low Hazard Class 'A'" to a "Significant Hazard Class 'B'" designation. Recommendations for repairs were made at that time.

In April 2005, the DES and the DOT met to develop a plan of action, co-partnering in a study of the Taylor River. They determined they had to look at long-term needs, said Goodwin, ultimately developing a two-phase approach.

The first phase focused on making repairs to the culvert, which was done in March of this year. As for the dam, Goodwin said a feasibility study should begin this summer, in hopes that it will pass the Governor's Council in July before being put before town officials. Again, the Louis Berger Group has been selected as the consultant.

As for the mid-May storms, Goodwin maintained that in spite of the rising waters and the damage they caused, there appeared to be no evidence that either the dam or the culvert had become blocked.

"There was no debris that was restricting the flow…?" asked Selectman Ben Moore.

"Not that we were aware of," Goodwin responded. "I'm sure that had anyone gone down and removed anything … we'd be aware of it."

He added that tidal influence would have a bearing on how much water passed through, and admitted to there being "some very anxious moments" during the evening of May 14, when water levels began creeping onto the I-95 breakdown lane.

"I'd hate to think what would have happened if [we] hadn't made those repairs in March," Goodwin said.

Selectman Rick Griffin asked Goodwin if it would be "advantageous to have the study sooner?"

"We'd like it to happen as soon as we can," responded Goodwin. "Yes, we' like to get the process going." He added, "We need to solve this problem, sooner rather than later."

As far as responding to the situation during the storms, Goodwin admitted that "we do the best we can, wherever we are. To be truthful, I don't know what we could have done differently." With 14 to 15 inches of rain, "there's not a whole lot you can do," he said.

Again, Goodwin reiterated that the DOT has "no knowledge of any blockage," and that the department "didn't move anything."

Shortly afterward, Taylor River Estate residents were allowed to approach the podium to ask questions of the state officials, but were warned by Selectman Chairman Virginia Bridle-Russell to keep their opinions to themselves.

In an exchange of dialogue with the first resident to speak, the situation along the dam and culvert area depicted in the photographs was called into question.

Why is the debris not flowing, the resident asked. "I think the evidence is in that picture." He also maintained that he and others in his neighborhood witnessed "lots of trees [and] lots of debris."

"Do we have walking lumber?" he asked. "Who would have moved that debris?"

Goodwin noted a significant high tide or run-off event would have been a factor in moving debris along.

"As far as we know, the state did not remove any debris," said Bridle-Russell.

As the meeting progressed, several other residents offered their comments and observations prior to selectmen continuing with the evening's agenda as listed.

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