Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Virginia Stefanilo is tired of fighting with the town about the need for a new culvert next to her home on Drew Road.
Fortunately for her, the last two storms were so devastating, the needed repair – currentky scheduled for sometime in 2012 – may be fast-tracked to this fall.
“I want to show you how much land I've lost here,” said Stefanilo, pointing to the barren dirt next to her home. “It used to be a pine forest. It used to be so lovely.”
Last week's torrential rains filled the swamp behind her home beyond its limit. Rushing water poured from the brook, washing out the road and threatening the home of her across-the-street neighbor, Jodi Salerno, who has her own frustrations.
“The water was rushing up to the house and my husband was scrambling to get the sandbags out, and a fire fighter came up to us and said we should just walk away, just take our belongings and let it go,” said Salerno, the disbelief still lingering in her voice. “They offered to help us move some furniture to the second floor, but they told us there was nothing they could do to stop the water.”
Salerno and Stefanilo see it differently. They believe the town needs to raise the road and build a proper bridge, or at least replace the inadequate culvert with one that can handle the flow of water that has been creating real problems since 1996. That's when new construction on Hampstead Road seemed to trigger unmanageable flooding in Derry, said Stefanilo.
Highway Department Director Alan Cote said the rain expected last night through today was not going to help matters.
“It got whammed twice. We weren't anticipating two months worth of rain in 48 hours,” said Cote, who stopped by yesterday to see the condition of the road. “This culvert drains a 3,100-acre water shed. A lot of water comes through here, and it has for years – you can see, it's the site of an old mill.”
Cote said moving up the construction date of the project would depend on funding – a cost which he estimated could be around $450,000 – an unlikely sum, given the tight budget the town is currently working on.
“One way or another we'll have to find the money. It won't be a cheap project,” Cote said.
Public Works Director Mike Fowler said he will be going before the council to try and shift funding from other bridge projects which had been slated for repair. There were five bridge projects ahead of Drew Road – the fourth being Fordway Bridge, scheduled for this summer, and the fifth, South Avenue Bridge, which was on target for repair in 2011.
In the meantime, Cote said repairs done yesterday could make the road safe enough for one lane of traffic.
Complicating the matter, said Stefanilo, is that the land abutting the wetlands, Weber Memorial Forest, is protected conservation land, which means that any dredging and filling for construction needs to be permitted and approved by the Department of Environmental Services.
It is a necessary but routine process, said Conservation Commission chairman Margi Ives.
“I'm no engineer, but they will probably have to figure out what kind of bridge and culvert can handle the flow, something that will last for years to come,” said Ives. “It's similar to the bridge they just replaced on Island Pond. They had to order a custom made bridge and it was delayed, which meant the road was closed for an extended period of time.”
Stefanilo said she feels like while the town and Conservation Commission figure out how best to solve the problem while protecting the wetlands, her home – and her neighbors' homes – are being sacrificed.
“You know what the town told me? They said Mother Nature did this. But I think differently. I think they know it's something they can fix. They just choose to patch it up, like they're doing right now. The culvert has never been big enough to handle all this water,” Stefanilo said.
Salerno said she can't help but feel cynical at this point. She knows the town has money socked away in its “rainy day” fund. Given what the rain has wrought lately, she feels it's time for the town to release some of the taxpayer's money it's holding and take care of the roads.
“It's just frustrating. I don't think the town is trying to mislead us, but every time I talk to someone, I get a different story. And every time it rains, like it did last weekend, my yard gets torn up, my basement floods and we have to pile up the sandbags,” Salerno said. “I don't know what else we're supposed to do, but we can't keep doing this.”