By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, June 9, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Residents from Taylor River Estates said they are still not convinced the town learned anything from last month’s rain storms.
Floods caused damage all over town and the Taylor River overflowed, damaging 10 homes at Taylor River Estates.
"I think at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting we finally got our sandbags," said Mary Boyton, a Taylor River Estates resident. "I say that because we were sandbagged. They had promised to put together a team to look at where they had failed. I didn’t see that. I just pray to God that we never have a nuclear disaster."
But town officials say they learned from the storm and are getting better prepared to handle an emergency like this if it occurs in the future.
"Anytime someone experiences a loss like the residents of Taylor River Estates, they want immediate answers," said Selectmen Chairman Ginny Bridle-Russell. "They want whatever is broke to be fixed. But state and local towns don’t move on immediates. It’s only been two weeks, but we have made some great progress."
Residents criticized how the town and state responded. Residents said they called local officials with concerns about the dam being blocked at the Taylor River. According to residents who spoke at the selectmen’s meeting, they were referred to the state, but no number was given.
Other residents were concerned why the town’s emergency plan wasn’t implemented and why an emergency office was not opened. While the state did respond to their calls after a stretch of Interstate 95 flooded, they said the damage was already done.
Fire Chief Hank Lipe and Police Chief Jamie Sullivan appeared before the board to give a report on what they thought their department’s strengths and weaknesses were during the storm.
"We could have done a better job communicating with the other town agencies," Sullivan said, noting at times his dispatchers did not know what the Fire Department or public works could do and not do to help residents.
Selectman Bill Lally said he didn’t know the Fire Department doesn’t pump out basements.
Lipe said his department’s biggest strength is that it responded in a timely fashion to every call received.
"All calls were handled in a timely manner and no citizen went without service," Lipe said.
The chief said if he had to do it over again he would have opened a command center where he, Sullivan and John Hangen, director of the Department of Public Works, could be in the same room sharing information.
Sullivan and Lipe shared frustrations of Taylor River Estates residents who tried to contact a state official to look at the dam because their men did the same.
"I want to say that I’m sorry with what happened on your street," Lipe said to residents at the selectmen’s meeting. "It was a travesty.... But I can tell you as emergency director for this town, my responsibility and the rest of the department heads is to figure out what we can do better next time."
Town Manager James Barrington said the town is updating its emergency contact list and a consultant will be in next week to help update the emergency plan.
"Updates do not take place immediately," Barrington said. "A lot of time, thought and preparation needs to go into it. The consultant will review what we have while we work through the changes we know we need."
One change is putting in a section dealing strictly with groundwater flooding.
"The plan talks about flooding, but in relation to coastal flooding," Barrington said.
But Boynton, of Taylor River Estates, said the town doesn’t need to update the plan, it just needs to follow it.
"The town’s emergency plan spells everything out and in a moment’s notice it can go into action," Boynton said. "But Chief Lipe chose not to take it into action."
If the emergency plan were in action, Boynton said a responsibility of the Department of Public Works is to check local dams.
She said the town employees did an unbelievable job, but management did not.
Selectman Ben Moore said he believes the departments did the best they could under the circumstances.