By TIM FORSBERG
Residents of Belfield Drive once again find their street underwater as rainstorms continue to flood parts of the neighborhood.
In November, following weeks of heavy rain that inundated the road with more than two feet of water, the area was declared a local disaster by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service (USDANRCS). Authorities believe that the flooding is caused by a compromised culvert running through the property consisting of the former Golden Triangle golf center on Hartford Avenue.
The decades-old culvert is blocked with debris and has been crushed by construction material that was dumped on top of it, choking the Pocasset River and causing water in the neighborhood to rise.
At a November meeting hosted by Mayor Joseph Polisena, members of the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Northern Rhode Island Conservation, Department of Public Works (DPW), the USDANRCS and representatives from Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin’s offices gathered to devise a solution to the problem.
Long-term solutions include repairing the culvert, raising part of Belfield Drive above the flood plain, and utilizing federal emergency easement money to buy homes that have been flooded through a voluntary program. While these plans are in place, it is unclear when they will be completed as no timetable has been set.
A heavy-duty pump capable of draining 3,500 gallons per minute was also rented by the town to pump out the floodwaters last year. After six days of pumping, the waters subsided and Belfield Drive became passable to traffic.
Now, with last year’s historic rainfall levels seeming to carry over into the New Year, the road is again underwater with some areas of the street inundated with more than a foot of it.
Residents along the dead end portion of the road, which only has one way in and out, again have to travel through the swamped area to get to Hartford Avenue. Some have taken to leaving their smaller cars on the dry side of the road, wading through the waters and then walking home or getting a ride with neighbors or other family members.
Nearby residents are frustrated with the situation, concerned their houses and cars may suffer more damages, and are fearful that winter will further exacerbate the ramifications of the flooding.
With the town’s bill for the recent heavy-duty pump rental approaching $100,000, it is unlikely that such efforts will be repeated. Mayor Joseph Polisena, in an interview on Monday, stated that the road is safe for passage and that the town is waiting on federal relief efforts.
“That pump cost us nearly $100,000 for six days. It went from $55,000 to just shy of $100,000. I have to weigh the costs for all of the taxpayers. Right now, it’s in the fed’s hands,” said Polisena, who stated that the additional costs coming from the amount of pipe needed to complete the job, along with other costs. “The residents were told that and they’re insistent that it’s the town’s responsibility to pump it again.”
According to both the mayor and Deputy Police Chief Joseph Razza, the town’s emergency management director, water is flowing through the culvert but at a much-reduced rate. Following rains, water backs up and eventually recedes, albeit slowly. He said residents should follow up with the federal government officials to have their concerns addressed.
“Right now we’re watching it. It’s not a public safety issue,” said Polisena, who added that federal officials and engineers were scheduled to assess the area this week. “It’s not a public safety issue from what I’ve been told by police and fire, and I go by the professionals. It’s an inconvenience for the residents, absolutely.”
Deputy Chief Razza, who has monitored the issue since it began, continues to watch the water levels.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and reassess as needed. At this time, it’s not a threat to public safety as police and fire crews are able to respond into the area if needed,” said Razza on Monday.
Federal efforts are currently underway to resolve the problem. In November, a letter was sent to USDANRCS headquarters in Washington, D.C. requesting funding to begin work. When the money is received the work will start, but it is uncertain when those federal funds would become available. Karen Casey and Robert Barcellos, who own the two homes that were going to be offered a federal buyout, said that they had yet to hear from federal officials.
“Our staff is definitely working on the funding request. The funding comes through a program called the Emergence Watershed Protection Program and specifically flood plain easement,” said Diane Petit, Public Affairs Officer with the USDANRCS, who added that the current federal government shutdown is not affecting the agency. “It’s definitely in the works.”