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$1 million-plus estimated for immediate flood-damage repairs


September 08, 2011
GORHAM — Town officials are looking at short, mid-term, and long-term solutions to repairing flood damage from Tropical Storm Irene that hit on Sunday, Aug. 28.

The cost of the immediate short-term repairs to public roads, parks, and the municipal water and sewer systems caused by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene's could rise to over $1 million, Emergency Management Director Chad Miller explained to Congressman Charles Bass and Executive Councilor Ray Burton, as well as selectman David Graham, state Senator John Gallus of Berlin and former House Speaker, Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett at Wednesday afternoon's Town Hall meeting.

A few of the 54 miles of town roads will need repairs, some substantial, Miller said.

Two "uncontrolled" rivers without flood-control dams spilled over their embankments onto roads and public property: the Peabody and the Moose.

The Peabody drains 400 square miles of the White Mountain National Forest, and the Moose, the northern slopes of the Presidential Range east of the Bowman Divide.

The Peabody is now filled with rocks and sediment, making it far more flood-prone than in the past. Nearby houses could have to be evacuated in even minor "flood events." But it could be hard to get permission to dredge the river, especially since the WMNF owns property on one side.

Two mobile home parks in the floodplain on the Moose River are now also in jeopardy of quick flooding, with some homes perched very close to steeply eroded embankments. A number of older residents there might well need help should they need to be evacuated, Miller noted.

The state Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and all other state agencies, including the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT have been quick to be of help.

Rivers and their flows are complex, said Miller said, adding that he is very grateful for state help.

In the past, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has provided 75 percent of the cost of major repairs, with state providing a 12.5 percent match and localities, 12.5 percent.

"With the state's budget crisis, we just don't know what the state will be able to do," Miller said.

Fifteen residents and Appalachian Trail hikers spent the night in the emergency shelter opened at the Ed Fenn Elementary School.

"You can count on us," Congressman Bass said, indicating that Chandler, his on-the-ground North Country representative, would be available with needed advice or to help cut red tape.

Bass said that he recalled that in the 2005 Acworth-Alstead floods, FEMA had purchased hazardous properties so that residents could move to more secure, higher-ground properties.

"We don't know any answers yet," said town manager Robin Frost, pointing out that the town would be looking at bank stabilization and safeguards that could be achieved while minimizing any environmental effects.

Jay Poulin of H.E. Bergeron Engineers is applying for emergency permits from NHDES on White Birch Lane and to halt further bank erosion at Libby's Pool and the adjacent soccer field. The inlet system was damaged at the Pool, so it now had no through flow.

The Route 2 and 16 Bridge over the Moose River came close to being overtopped, Miller said. This is a key point in the town's vulnerability with the firehouse with the dispatch center, a gas station with gasoline and oil tanks, and a cemetery nearby, all of which could be flooded. The emergency multi-modal route from Route 2 to Libby Pool that was installed to provide an alternate connection across town did not have to be opened, however, Miller said.

An earthen levee, dating back to the 1930s, was likely damaged or breached at the end of Broadway Street, near where the Moose River enters the Androscoggin River. Damage assessments will continue, including the examination of highway and rail bridges.

Some private businesses also took a hit. There was disruption at the Great Glen trails and Mount Washington Auto Road. The Mt. Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails sustained a loss estimated at $200,000 between damages and loss of income, the bulk of which is damages, said general manager Howie Wemyss in an e-mail exchange.

The member-owned Androscoggin Valley Country Club on Route 2 sustained an estimated $25,000 loss to its irrigation system: pump, pump house and some 220-volt wiring, explained manager Gary Riff. Silt, debris, and rocks have had to be cleaned up, but the course is open for play.

A roundtable discussion with Commissioner George Bald of the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), WMNF Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner, and other town and area officials will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, in the Town Hall.

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