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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Blumenthal, Murphy promise federal aid during visit to flood spots along Yantic River

    U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, and Chris Murphy, second from left, and Norwich City Manager John Salomone, right, listen Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, to Chuck Lee, assistant director of Safety Programs with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection while visiting the defective Fitchville Pond Dam in Bozrah. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Bozrah First Selectman Glenn Pianka, second from right, talks with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, right, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, while Murphy and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, not shown, visit the defective Fitchville Pond Dam in Bozrah. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich City Manager John Salomone, left, shows U.S. Senator’s Chris Murphy and Richard Blulmenthal videos of the flood areas of the Yantic basin Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, during a stop at Dixie Donuts in Yantic while visiting flood sites in Norwich and Bozrah. The bakery is located in the area of Yantic basin. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Damage to asphalt parking area next to Brick & Basil food truck in the Yantic basin area of Norwich after the flood Wednesday. The area is one of the first areas to flood after the catch basins fill up and floods the road. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both D-Conn., visited the defective Fitchville Pond Dam in Bozrah and spots along the Yantic River in Norwich where roadwork continued to repair damage and remove debris from Wednesday’s flooding.

    Federal, state and local leaders emphasized the chronic flooding problems along the Yantic River in Bozrah and Norwich Friday morning, in addition to concerns about the defective 19th century Fitchville Pond Dam.

    The senators offered their support for local municipalities and businesses that suffered flood damage in Wednesday’s early morning rain deluge. The Yantic River rose to near-record flood levels, inundating homes and businesses in the Yantic and Norwichtown areas.

    In addition to the river flooding, municipal leaders and emergency responders were alarmed when a crack in a side abutment on the Fitchville Pond Dam on the Yantic River in Bozrah leaked water into the roadway. Concern that the dam might fail prompted emergency mandatory evacuations of more than 500 homes and businesses downstream in Bozrah and Norwich.

    The senators’ Friday morning tour started at the dam, where a contractor hired by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection continued work started Thursday to install a cofferdam to relieve the water pressure on the dam side wall and allow engineers to inspect the dam. The dam’s listed owner is Bozrah Water Works, but DEEP officials said it is owned by Seymour’s Sand & Stone. Bozrah businessman Seymour Adelman heads both companies.

    Chuck Lee, DEEP assistant director for dam safety told the senators and municipal leaders and state legislators Friday that the emergency would be completed first before the state pursues enforcement action against the owner for a record of failure to comply with regulations calling for dam inspections every two years and for failing to file an emergency action plan for the Fitchville Pond Dam.

    Blumenthal, Murphy, Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom and Bozrah First Selectman Glenn Pianka all praised emergency responders, town workers who first discovered the dam leak early Wednesday and firefighters in Bozrah and Norwich for their response to the flooding.

    Lee said he is confident the emergency work to shore up the dam will hold through Friday night’s expected storm, but crews are to be stationed at the dam overnight to monitor its condition. The Norwich area is forecast to receive another 2 inches of rain Friday night, according to the National Weather Service, which also projects the Yantic River to rise to moderate flood stage at 9.4 feet. The river reached a near record 14.23 feet Wednesday morning, just short of the all-time record of 14.9 feet.

    The Yantic volunteer fire department rescued business owners in Norwichtown trapped by the rapidly rising flood water Wednesday morning, and fire departments throughout the city pumped basements, some which saw 6 feet or more of water, Yantic Deputy Chief BJ Herz said.

    Blumenthal touted the federal Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Act and programs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency can provide funding for work, such as shoring up riverbanks, protecting homes, businesses and utility infrastructure in flood-prone areas and relocating residents or businesses.

    Blumenthal stressed that it’s not just the fear of the Fitchville Pond Dam, it’s the Yantic River itself, which floods frequently and threatens homes and businesses.

    “To put it very simply, the effects of the Yantic River have to be addressed in flooding that may be a threat to not only property, but lives,” Blumenthal said. “Federal aid is available and we’re going to fight for it. … The Yantic River is going to flood again. We’ve been here before. I’ve been here before.”

    Murphy, chairman of the Senate committee that writes the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, including the Building Resilient Communities account. He pledged that he and Blumenthal would seek to “plus up” that account. The committee will be writing that budget in the next two to three weeks, Murphy said, which prompted Friday’s tour to see the damage up close.

    “The cost of flooding can be enormous for businesses, for municipalities and for homeowners,” Murphy said. “There is more frequent and disastrous flooding happening in Connecticut and all over the country with big costs that come along with it.”

    Murphy said Connecticut has hundreds of old dams, many of them in private hands, in need of attention. Communities are facing what used to be called 100-year storms every year.

    “This has to be a national priority, especially when it comes to helping small towns and small cities bear the cost of doing the preventive maintenance on dams, building up infrastructure around waterways to try to prevent future flooding.”

    Norwich City Manager John Salomone said the city is preparing to file an application for a national disaster declaration to seek federal aid to cover the storm recovery costs. Mayor Nystrom said the Norwich Community Development Corp., the city’s economic development agency, is working with about two dozen businesses that suffered flooding and closures during and after the storm.

    Jim Burkart, father of Dixie Donuts’ owner Jennifer Baker, said workers and customers joined forces Thursday morning to clean out the main store and were ready to reopen Thursday. But city officials delayed the opening until a washed-out area of the parking lot was repaired. The shop reopened Friday morning.

    “The patrons here were overwhelming,” Burkart said. “They actually came down, volunteered their services. They just called my daughter up with overwhelming support and said, ‘You need help? You gotta do this. You gotta do that.’ It was just something.”

    Burkart said the shop, which has been on West Town Street for over 20 years, twice had water enter the building and has had a number of close calls.

    Salomone said Norwich Public Utilities is investigating permanent flood prevention measures at its critical Bean Hill power substation, which was taken offline Wednesday, cutting off power to about 5,000 NPU customers for most of the day Wednesday.

    Salomone said one expensive plan would be to build a dike around the substation, which would require federal funding.

    The senators visited Dixie Donuts at 275 W. Town St., Norwich, where water and mud coated the main floor inside the shop and flooded the parking lot. Across the street, state road crews worked on a washout along a state right-of-way adjacent to the Brick & Basil Wood-Fired Pizza Co. Mud still coated West Town Street Friday morning in the area, and road crews worked along a stretch about a mile from Dixie Donuts to the Interstate 395 Exit 14 ramp.

    “It’s not just the dam,” Mayor Nystrom said. “It’s the whole Yantic River basin.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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