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Letter: Flooding Is Norwalk's 'F' Word

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be e-mailed to letters@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

Common Council members Nick Kydes, Jerry Petrini and I recently met with a group of Norwalk residents who live in a lovely neighborhood between Murray Street and Dry Hill Road. They've been experiencing flooding and sewage problems for months and feel that the city has not been appropriately responsive to their concerns.

Department of Public Works employees have checked out the problem but seemed to conclude that nothing much could be done; that the drainage pipes were old, too small, etc. According to these officials, the city was not in a position to replace an antiquated underground infrastructure with a modern drainage system.

We listened to the residents, who made their case with the help of detailed maps of the area. We advised them to speak during the public participation portion of the next council meeting, and at the next meeting of the council's public works committee. For us, this was a problem that had to be solved as soon as possible.

As I listened to these Norwalk residents, I started to think about what happened 10 years ago, when the city was slow to realize how devastating flooding can be. At the time, residents on and near Olmstead Place, off East Avenue, and several other areas were experiencing serious flooding. They became increasingly frustrated as the city dragged its feet instead of aggressively dealing with the problems.

I was on the council, and a member of the public works committee, when these issues were first brought to our attention, I believe in early 2002. At the time, I didn't appreciate how much flooding affects the lives of people. A few years later, during a difficult budget debate, I changed my view as I listened to these same residents and others present detailed accounts of how flooding had changed their lives and cost them thousands of dollars.

Imagine postponing a vacation because of a weather report; coming home early from a vacation after receiving a call from a neighbor; leaving work early because a thunderstorm is in the forecast; moving furniture to upper floors to prevent water damage; paying ever larger premiums for flood insurance; or spending thousands on pumps and additional drainage systems that could not stem the flow of water.

Flooding is serious. Flooding is expensive. Flooding is frustrating. Unfortunately, it is also the equivalent of an engineering "F word" that DPW officials would rather not hear. And, more often than not – at least in my experience – their first reaction is to take a cursory look around and then announce that nothing can be done – the ground slopes in the wrong direction, the old pipes are too small, there's been over-development in the area, etc.

For instance, a few months ago I was contacted by a family in West Norwalk who had been experiencing flooding. I visited their home; saw that they had already spent a large amount of money unsuccessfully trying to address the problem; and was told that DPW officials had told them there was nothing that could be done. I contacted the department and, predictably, they told me the same thing. I conveyed this depressing conclusion to the family and didn't hear from them for a couple of months.

However, they kept pressing DPW and elected officials, and one of the city's engineers eventually discovered that a drainage pond, not too far from their home, was blocked by large logs and a tree. It did not take long for city workers to significantly reduce the flooding.

Norwalk is an old city (chronologically), and much of our underground infrastructure needs to be replaced or repaired. I once had the privilege of representing the council on the city's Water Pollution Control Authority. I recall a meeting when we were shown pictures of some of that infrastructure near Crescent Street. They were not pretty. DPW officials noted that these pictures represented problems that could not be ignored indefinitely.

We really have no choice.

Bruce Kimmel

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