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.
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.”