Washouts lead to finger-pointing in Rumford

RUMFORD — Speculation ran rampant at Thursday night's selectmen's meeting that landowners, timber harvesting and beavers contributed to local road damage from Tropical Storm Irene's heavy rains.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

The Bean Brook concrete box culvert on Spruce Street at the intersection of Holyoke and Maine avenues wasn't damaged during Tropical Storm Irene on Sunday. However, the massive flood and woody debris released upstream when Swain Road culverts washed out destroyed the northbound lane and chewed up part of the other lane.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

During a discussion Thursday night about damage to Rumford roads from Tropical Storm Irene, Selectman Jolene Lovejoy told the audience she didn't dispute that Sunday's damage is inconveniencing residents of upper Swain and Isthmus road residents by forcing them to travel several miles out of their way on Isthmus to reach town businesses and Rumford Hospital.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Rumford Public Works Road Foreman Shawn Goodrow, right, of Wilton, told selectmen Thursday night that the town crew properly installed culverts on Swain Road and that Tropical Storm Irene's heavy rainfall in a few hours turned Bean Brook into a maelstrom that popped them out of the ground and damaged roads downstream. Listening at left is Public Works Superintendent Andy Russell.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Rumford property owners at right view work completed Friday by the Public Works crew to ready a washout on Swain Road for a temporary bridge to be installed Saturday morning. The 46-foot-long span is being donated by Jim Nichols of Nichols Brothers Logging Inc. of Rumford until the town can permanently repair the damage.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Woody debris jammed Sunday into the Bean Brook bank between two newly-installed culverts on Swain Road, backed up onrushing water toward John and Paula Martin's property at right at 336 Swain Road, and completely surrounded it before the culverts blew out. The whole mess rapidly traveled downstream, destroying sections of Spruce Street in the process.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Swain Road resident John Martin said he has complained for 18 years that Rumford should fix the Bean Brook section at top right properly rather than continue to add culverts that can't handle the water load. With his rain gauge on Sunday during Tropical Storm Irene, he said he measured 6.25 inches falling within a few hours, causing the brook to flashflood.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

A driver travels west past the collapsed east-bound lane of Isthmus Road on Friday in Rumford. Tropical Storm Irene's heavy rainfall in a few hours wreaked havoc with River Valley area roads, causing an estimated $300,000 in damage to Rumford roads, Andy Russell, Public Works superintendent, told selectmen Thursday night.

Only a few, however, attributed the blowouts of Swain and Isthmus roads and Spruce Street to the likely culprit: several inches of rain falling in the Bean Brook Watershed in just a few hours.

On Friday, John Martin of 336 Swain Road — near the washout — said he measured 6.25 inches of rain falling in a few hours on Sunday.

At Thursday night's meeting, Public Works Superintendent Andy Russell said the preliminary damage estimate to those roads and others is around $300,000.

Selectman Brad Adley asked if runoff on Holyoke Avenue could be attributed to timber harvesting. Russell replied yes, he believed it was a contributing factor.

Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he would check with Maine Forest Service officials to learn if landowners might not have adhered to state harvesting regulations.

Selectman Jeremy Volkernick said he thought the flooding could have been prevented and asked Puiia to investigate whether Swain Road culverts were installed properly.

Martin said Friday that the town crew replaced damaged culverts in Bean Brook with two culverts about three weeks prior to Irene's arrival Sunday.

Volkernick said when he lived on Spruce Street, Bean Brook never flooded like it did Sunday.

Puiia then said the two culverts were put in side by side like the previous ones and woody debris piled up between them and dammed the brook, which then let go in one big flush.

Like Martin, Selectman Jeff Sterling attributed the blowout to “a band of rain that just let loose.”

Then the ongoing beaver problem on Holyoke Avenue surfaced as a possible factor.

Puiia said Maine law requires landowners to give the town permission to trap beavers. But that can only be done during the trapping season from December to March, unless the town pays for live trapping.

Two years ago, town officials broke up several beaver dams to alleviate local flooding problems.

“These beavers have more rights than our citizens do,” Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said.

“It sounds silly. Can we bring in DEP and Beaver Control?”

Road Foreman Shawn Goodrow of Wilton said the town crew installed the culverts properly. Like Sterling, he attributed the damage to too much rainfall in a short time span.

“When you get 5 inches of rain in five hours, they're going to come out,” he said. “There was only fresh dirt on top of these things ... so they popped out like a ping-pong ball.”

He then accused selectmen of “really blowing this out of proportion” by trying to pin the cause on timber harvesting for the new Central Maine Power power line upgrade.

Martin said Friday that flooding has occurred at the Swain Road blowout beside his property for many years.

“We all know money's tight, but we've been paying taxes for 18 years and all we get is a couple shovelfuls of tar every year,” he said.

Martin said that when the culverts dammed up on Sunday, floodwaters completely encircled his house.

He called 911. But his property was saved when the culverts blew out.

“Thank God those culverts let go, because I would have been under water,” Martin said.

That's what caused all the damage downstream at the intersection of Spruce Street and Maine and Holyoke avenues and blew out the northbound lane of Spruce Street.

On Friday, Tom Fallon of Spruce Street attributed the flooding to logging, changes on Holyoke, heavy spring rains, plugged culverts, and Irene's flash flooding.

He said Bean Brook floods his backyard and a neighbor's and enters the road every year with spring snow melt and heavy rains, but it's nothing like Sunday's massive flow.

“If the Bean Brook culvert is not cleaned out before a storm that is predicted, there will always be flooding,” Fallon said.

“The town crews have come during a storm when people are flooded, and that certainly is a help, but it is a little late to deal with a problem that has existed for many years.”


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Main Ave and Spruce

Where the Bean Brook jumped its bank was do to poor design. I hope that when the road is repaired in this area that the design is changed to accomodate the next downfall of rain. Whether the state does it or the fine Rumford crew does it. Do it right. Redo the open properly for the entrance on Main street side and extend the concrete walls on the opposite side. Will common sense prevail? I hope so! The same common sense must also be used on Swain Road damage. culverts don't work.

 's picture

John Martin is

John Martin is right.........the flooding that took place near and around his home was nothing new. I lived on the Swain Road for 11 years and remember the countless times the road would flood. I also remember, as he stated....the shovels full of tar that were used to bandaid the problems. I recall several occassions when the road would flood at the intersection of Spruce and Maine. This Hurricane Irene event was not a new situation...sounds like Rumfords wonderful selectmen are as per usual...throwing the blame around.

Mark Belanger's picture

Who in there right mind would

Who in there right mind would think that putting two culverts together would work. Water will work in the sides and push those things out. In reality the head of public works is responsible for this. They did not get the new cuverts engineered and they should have knowing we had this trouble last summer. And just for information there was no power line work last year. Stop passing the buck....


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