August 30, 2011

Flooding woes not political issue, Werner says

Former Mayor Mike Werner sent me a note about the flooding problem. Here's what he had to say:

Politics really doesn't play a role in this.  There was a study done back when I was Mayor on the entire watershed.  I forgot who did it.  It was started before me.  I do remember being briefed on it.  Nothing has changed since then; there's no need for a new study.  No one wants to say it, but the problems are too numerous and too costly to address, so they look for another study to tell them the same thing, but it will take everyone's mind off the problem until the next flood. 

Back in the 80's, the Wetlands agency set strict standards for new development, so the fear of any new runoff is unfounded.  They have a zero runnoff policy.  I know because I lost two building lots a few years ago when I subdivided a piece of land on Miller Road.  I had to use the extra land to design an underground detention sytem to keep any additional water from running into the little brook on the property. The upshot is that there really has been no new runoff to any of the waterways in Bristol for several years, at least not as a result of any legal development.

The problems with our waterways are just too expensive to fix, because you have to fix everything to have an impact.  A fix in one area creates a problem in another.  To really fix the problem, you'll have to purchase hundreds of privately owned properties.  Some of the things property owners were allowed to do back in the 50's and 60's would never be allowed today, and they'd have to be remedied at great cost.  Just look at Frederick Street.  No natural brook takes ninety degree turns the way it does behing the body shop and on toward Theiss Steel.  But to fix it, you'd have to buy that property, and several others, and make the brook straight.  Now you create a problem for someone downstream, and you have to fix his problem, and so on.  This is just one example of many.  There are similar problems with every waterway in town and they all interconnect.  Unless you start at the Pequabuck and work your way through every stream that empties into it, you will cause more problems than you started with.  I don't know what the legal liability would be if the City created a flooding problem for someone who never had one before, but I'd guess it would be significant.  They could end up buying dozens of homes and businesses just by the law of unitended consequences.

All along Mine Brook there are areas where homeowners or businesses filled in parts of the brook to keep it from flooding their back yard or to give themselves more property.  I was a kid when St Gregory Church was built.  Their parking lot added a lot of water to Mine Brook where we used to fish.  St Paul's High School, built many years later added even more.  As a result of this and other things, the bridge on Rt 6 by Dunkin Donuts, which used to be adequate, is undersized. Again, most of this was done decades ago.  The same can be said for the brook that flows down from Terryville (can't think of the name now) along Rt 6 and into the Pequabuck down by the intersection of Clarke Ave and Rt 72.  That brook has a few ninety degree turns that aren't natural.  You also have problems with the brook that flows down from Withces Rock Road down Peck Ln and under Divinity Street.  That has a host of problems.  The brook that runs down from East Rd to Union Street also is a problem.  And on and on.  Almost every stream in town has been tampered with over the years by abutting property owners. These brooks and streams all flow into the Pequabuck.  If you make them all flow better, the Pequabuck will get more water faster and will flood more readily.  How do you deal with the inadequate bridge in Forestville?  You have to buy Nuchies and that whole block, and build a proper bridge.  Again, all along the Pequabuck are buildings that were built too close, property owners who filled in parts of the river and made it flow in an unnatural way, etc.   And much of this was done before you or I were born.  A lot of it was done in the 1800's. To correct it would cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. Also, if we get our watershed to run smoothly, what problems will we create for the people of Plainville?

It would be nice to say that there is an easy solution to this.  There is a solution, but the cost is prohibitive.  The city really took some serious steps years ago (after I left office, I can't take any credit) to alleviate runoff.  The Planning Board and Wetlands Agency take this stuff seriously.  Unfortunately, the city learned too late, so they have to do the best they can with what they have. People who live or run businesses in flood prone areas just have to realize that they will get flooded from time to time. 

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