Town may get Irene recovery funds
by Mike Eldred
Nov 18, 2013 | 3708 views | 0 0 comments | 83 83 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WHITINGHAM- More federal funds have been made available through a second round of Irene-related Community Development Block Grants, and Jacksonville projects may be eligible for the program.

Jim Matteau, of the Windham Regional Commission, met with Whitingham Selectboard members Tuesday evening to discuss two projects he thinks could meet with approval. Matteau said 35% of the additional $4.8 million in federal funding must be used in Windham, Windsor, and Washington counties, those hit hardest by Tropical Storm Irene. The funding, he said, will come in two chunks, with $2 million to be available soon, and another $2 million available at some point in 2014 or later. “When Congress got around to ending their arguing and authorized additional funding for Hurricane Sandy relief, they also backfilled unmet need for other disasters, one of which was Irene,” he said. “So now we have some money available for unmet needs. We’re tasked with helping towns that meet the criteria. As you may know, a CDBG is not the easiest thing to do.”

Matteau said repairing a town bridge over the North River in front of Honora Winery was the project most likely to be successful in Jacksonville. He noted that he, road commissioner Stan Janovsky, and a state stream engineer met to discuss the project earlier in the year. “(The engineer) agreed with Stan that no stream alteration permit would be needed,” Matteau said. “It was damaged, the fix hasn’t been made, and it needs to have all the deckwork on the bridge replaced. Other than the aggravation of the grant process, it would be pretty straightforward.”

Matteau said the need, the fact that no permit would be needed, and Janovsky’s intention to do the work as soon as next year, all worked in favor of a successful grant application. “There would be a 10% local match, but that can be in-kind work that the town does.”

Matteau said he would work on the grant with town administrator Bonnie Jo Radasch.

The second grant proposal the town might pursue would be to fund a study regarding flooding around the Whitingham Municipal Center during unusually heavy rains. The stream that flows along the edge of the municipal center property overflows its banks, and water floods the center’s parking lot. The water flowing over the parking lot may also be contributing to problems downstream, including flooding of houses. Radasch says someone has even discovered water seeping out from under the parking lot tarmac, and indications there may be some erosion beginning under the lot.

Matteau has been exploring possible solutions. “One of the initial suggestions was to dredge material out of the stream,” he said. “The state stream engineer said it wouldn’t work, it would refill quickly.”

A landscape engineer from the WRC also looked at the situation, Matteau said, and suggested a plan to cut through a berm that appears to have been put in place to contain the stream at the north end of the town property, essentially allowing a controlled amount of water to escape the stream.

The water would be channeled to an existing drainage ditch at the back of the parking lot, and channeled back to the stream farther down. Matteau said the plan wouldn’t address flooding as severe as during Irene, but it could help alleviate flooding during periodic heavy rains. Additional landscaping behind a residence on the stream would help to avoid basement flooding, he said.

“(The state stream engineer) looked at it and thought it could work,” Matteau said. “He said it was ‘creative,’ and he meant it in a good way.”

A study would look at that and possibly other solutions, and would gauge the impact on locations downstream, where there have also been flooding problems. “On the face of it, you haven’t changed anything below that,” Matteau said. “But there’s probably a benefit in slowing it down. And because you’d be doing some alterations to the stream, it would require looking at the hydrology the rest of the way down.”

The problem with such an application, Matteau said, is that the money is earmarked for implementation projects – not for planning projects. But he said that could change. “I know there have been other questions about planning, and I’m hoping they’ll allow some planning projects. We should know soon.”

“We don’t want to be in the predicament Wilmington is,” Janovsky said. “There’s no way of getting rid of that water by Dot’s. They’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

Radasch asked if there was a deadline for applications.

Matteau said it was a “rolling application” process with no deadline. But he said the sooner the town started the application process, the better. “The funding isn’t available yet, it was going to be approved in October, then the government shutdown slowed it down. With questions about planning thrown in, and questions about places where FEMA denied mitigation funding, things are slowing down. But it’s going to take weeks to get through the application process. Hearings will have to be warned. I hope it will go easy but, as they say, what could go wrong, it’s federal money.”
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