Water stable, work begins on rivers and bridges
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON – Town officials said a plan to keep water flowing is working, but additional destruction of water system infrastructure was found Wednesday that will add to the cost and time it will take to refurbish the system.
Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said a reserve of 1.5 million gallons of water should remain in a 3 million gallon tank on Chapel hill after the Water Department was able to pump enough water from the Morgan Spring to cover daily usage under conservation practices. The town will continue to pump water into the large tank nightly from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. until the water main, severed by the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, can be patched.
“We were able to pump 300,000 gallons back into the 3 million gallon tank over night last night,” Hurd said. “Current low-flow … in the town is about 300,000 to 400,000 gallons a day. So, we, in effect, appear to be able to meet that daily demand, which means the tank remains at 1.5 million gallons as an emergency situation. What that means, potentially, is that when the work in Woodford is finished, and we can do the testing regimes, the connection to the town’s system from Woodford would be without any boil water order.”
Water conservation efforts by town residents and businesses “remains paramount,” however, Hurd said.
“The schools not opening for a week is a Godsend,” he said.
The town’s water filtration plant east of town in Woodford has been cut off from the town since Sunday. A bridge on Route 9 was washed out by raging flood waters, snapping the pipe. Another section about a half-mile down Route 9 was also destroyed, Hurd said.
Crews working on the Bennington Bypass project were redirected Wednesday to begin work on replacing the water main. Officials had hoped to begin putting new pipe in place Wednesday, but the new sections of pipe were delayed and not expected to arrive until Thursday. Hurd said work is now expected to be completed late Friday.
Water must then be tested to ensure there is no bacterial growth after a 24-hour incubation period. Testing facilities in Vermont are not available, Hurd said, so the town will look to send samples to labs in the Albany, N.Y. area.
“That means we’re into the weekend before we’ll know whether or not we can turn the system on without a boil water order. If in fact something goes wrong, such as we find additional leaks in that line that we’re now not aware of, or we can’t meet the chlorine residual requirements, most likely we would then, after 24 hours notice, probably on Tuesday, if we can connect to the system, we will connect with a boil water order,” Hurd said.
Hurd said the town will likely need to return to the main system, with or without a boil order, by Tuesday.
“Trying to maintain some water pressure and water flow up into the high of Burgess Road is putting a great deal of stress on the pumps at Morgan Spring and we don’t want to continue that indefinitely,” he said. “We’re going to need to make that call. Of course, a boil water order creates some havoc for health care facilities, for schools, for restaurants. We try to give at least 24 hour notices, maybe a bit more.”
The town found more bad news Wednesday, Hurd said. The intake system that feeds water to the filtration plant from Bolles Brook was destroyed by the fast-moving flood water. “Yes, it drives the cost up for that anticipated reconnect. Don’t know how much, though,” he said.
Officials were anticipating problems with the intake, however, and were already planning to pump water from a separate brook using a pump and generator into the filtration plant. “The plan is still proceeding as we anticipated. We weren’t certain we could use the intake anyway, but now we know that it is, destroyed, I think, is the appropriate term,” he said.
Meanwhile, pumping water from Morgan Spring to reserve the tank did create a new problem. Energizer, as part of its water conservation plan, was using overflow from the spring for its plant cooling system. But the town was pumping so much water from the spring that there was too little water for Energizer to draw from.
“We basically were putting so much pressure on Morgan Spring we were beginning to impact Energizer. We’ve made contact them with them. We’ll probably ratchet back the amount we’re trying to pump slightly so that we don’t interfere with their operations, but we’re pretty pleased with the amount that we were able to pump,” Hurd said.
Efforts to clean up river beds also began in earnest Wednesday. Four contractors, including J.A. McDonald from the Bennington Bypass project, have been hired, Hurd said. Their first goal is to clear trees and other debris that became lodged underneath and against the bridges because of the storm.
“It is essential, from the engineer’s perspective, that we have the debris away from the abutments and away from the bridges so that he can get a good look at those to the extent he can. Part of the work in the rivers will require that we shift the river, which is going to give us access to the abutments, which is a good thing,” Hurd said.
Todd Ross, a worker with J.A. McDonald, said restoring the Roaring Branch will require considerable work.
“By the looks of it we’ve got a lot to do,” Ross said, as heavy machinery operated in the river below the Park Street bridge.
Enough work has been completed to reopen the Park Street Bridge and all three covered bridges, according to Hurd. However, only one covered bridge could be opened Wednesday because of other issues.
“We can only open the Henry Bridge at this time. The road access to the Paper Mill bridge from Route 67A was torn up during the flood event there so we’ve got to do some work to replace that,” Hurd said. “The Silk Road Bridge will depend on whether or not we want to put a lot of traffic over that unpaved surface.”
A federal disaster declaration signed by President Barack Obama means 75 percent of the cost of the river work will be reimbursed by the federal government. Another 12.5 percent may be available from the state, Hurd said.
“We’re going to be … trying to identify the worst spots in the banks with the least protection. We’ll be pushing material back into the bank to try to recover some of that land and then we’ll be armoring as our river management plan document provides,” he said.
The work will remove all debris and islands from the Roaring Branch, Hurd said. The river is significantly wider following the flooding and erosion of banks, he said, and not all of the previous land will be recovered. “We know the river needs that space,” Hurd said.
Crews will be working “over the next several months, easily,” he said. “It’s going to be very expensive and I’m currently investigating how we go about borrowing the funds to pay for the local share and whether or not voter approval is required for that or whether we can do it on a short-term, Select Board approval basis,” Hurd said.
The former Jard site, designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, was breached by flooding, according to Hurd. State officials, however, will be in charge of assessing any negative impacts, he said. A state official was in Bennington Wednesday.
“We’ve passed that information on to the state Agency of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Conservation. They’re aware of it,” he said. “We’re going to let the state worry about the Jard site and how it needs to be repaired. … (Flooding probably took some material but probably not enough to create another polluted site, but we’ll let the state tell us that.”
Repairing the washed out bridge in Woodford, which has cut off access to Woodford and Wilmington, a community hit particularly hard by flooding, will take longer. Hurd said state Agency of Transportation engineers have found that one of the abutments was moved by fast-moving water.
“The Woodford bridge was somewhat of a disappointment for the state,” he said. “That’s a high priority for them here. They want to get that east-west route open.”
Pieces of wood and insulation from a house that was swept away by flooding remained on the bridge deck, Wednesday. A large portion of the house’s frame rested on a bank not far from the bridge.
Crews began shifting the river channel back into place Wednesday by moving rocks and boulders with heavy machinery. State officials are looking to find a temporary, one-lane span as a temporary fix.
Hurd said other roads have reopened allowing better access to Bennington from Woodford and Wilmington. Residents from those communities may soon come to Bennington for food, water and shelter, he said. The Red Cross may reopen a shelter at the Mount Anthony Union Middle School to help accommodate them, he said.
“We may see Wilmington residents moving to Bennington depending on the need. The Red Cross is prepared to open a shelter. They can only keep it open for three days, but we may be able to at least get those folks some shelter and rest and the opportunity to clean themselves, perhaps re-supply for those people who still have power and well water,” he said.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said his department is ready to assist the Wilmington Police Department, which had its station wiped out by flooding. Police will help with the shelter as well, he said.
“Our community is opening up to the residents of Wilmington to assist them in any way we can,” Doucette said. “We want people to feel welcome in Bennington. We were far more fortunate than the community’s to the east of us and we want to help where we can.”
A three-truck convoy from the Vermont Army National Guard arrived in Bennington Wednesday evening carrying bottled water and Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs, supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those supplies will be used at the Red Cross shelter if it must reopen, Doucette said.
Meanwhile, Bennington Police were continuing to deliver water to Woodford residents Wednesday, he said. “We had people up here in tears yesterday. I came up here yesterday checking on things and bringing water. Some people broke down and said, ‘thank you,'” Doucette said.
Additional FEMA supplies were delivered to Woodford Wednesday, according to Town Clerk Ron Higgins.
Woodford residents can only access Bennington by traveling on a lengthy detour. “It sucks,” Woodford resident Doug Divis. “It takes about an hour-and-a-half.”
Dick France, a longtime Woodford resident that lives along the Roaring Branch said water rose very quickly. A fireman knocked on his door Sunday telling he had five minutes to evacuate, he said.
“I said I’d be ready in three (minutes),” France said. “I didn’t expect to see my house sitting there when I got back.”
“We are very fortunate that nobody was hurt or killed,” he added.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at email@example.com