The 400 families in Branford’s Indian Neck and Pawson Park neighborhoods were nearly stranded when Irene’s relentless storm surge undermined part of Linden Avenue, the only road leading to the peninsula.
Homes along Linden Avenue vibrated from the hurricane’s waves, and huge rocks were hurled up onto the roadway.
Fortunately, one lane of the coastal road remained stable, and town crews were able to provide a temporary fix by cutting another lane through neighboring lawns. But even when the road is restored to pre-storm conditions, the town is facing costly repairs to ensure the road will be passable in future storms.
“Beyond a doubt, Linden Avenue will be the most costly project in Branford,” First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos told the Eagle yesterday. “It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just to secure the road. Contractors have been to the scene all week and work will begin very soon.”
DaRos expects to receive proposals from contractors this week. He is also hopeful that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money will be available for the project, since the entire state was declared a disaster area. He said 710 feet of the road need immediate attention.
Meanwhile, Branford is continuing to recover from the Aug. 28 tropical storm that left 100 percent of the town without power and caused significant damage to a number of homes. DaRos said electricity had been restored to all but 50 homes by yesterday afternoon—- more than a week after the storm. Those homes have isolated problems, he said. The Branford School District, which cancelled the Sept. 1 start-up of school, will hold the first day of classes tomorrow, Sept. 7.
Town officials and work crews spent the past week aiding those impacted by Irene. In terms of infrastructure, the Linden Avenue roadway sustained the most extensive damage.
“We’re looking for proposals for a long-term solution so this won’t happen again,” said town engineer Janice Plaziak in regard to Linden Avenue. “We want to look ahead to the future with permanent repairs. That road is the only way in and out of that whole neighborhood.”
The peninsula is particularly vulnerable to coastal storms and was significantly damaged by the deadly 1938 hurricane and again by Hurricane Gloria in 1985. After Gloria eroded portions of Linden Avenue, the town backfilled the slope leading up to the road and built a bed of rocks beneath the road. Seawalls were constructed in some areas.
“What was there didn’t work,” Plaziak said. “The road suffered a greater impact from this storm.”
DaRos and Plaziak accompanied FEMA officials as they toured the hard-hit areas last week, including Beckett Avenue in Short Beach. “FEMA felt Linden Avenue was a significant impact for the town,” Plaziak said.
Plaziak said the initial repairs (see photo) were covered under emergency authorization, but that any long-term solution will require traditional approvals and permitting by town boards and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
“I’m awaiting proposals,” Plaziak said. “We’re taking it one step at a time now.” The proposals will be analyzed in terms of time and costs, and then designs would have to be drafted. Right now, no one knows how expensive or extensive the project could be.
In the meantime, Plaziak is hoping to backfill the slope once again, open the roadway and restore the lawns. She said a permanent solution may involve creating higher seawalls or terraced seawalls. Some seawalls in the area were damaged and others remained intact but were useless.
“The waves actually went above the seawalls,” Plaziak said. “The coastal surge was the biggest problem here…It was greater than I would have anticipated. The reach of the wave action was surprising to me. It wasn’t even a hurricane…it was a tropical storm.”
Watching The Storm Surge
Helen and Tracy Selmon had front-seat seats as the storm carved out the road in front of their Linden Shores home, which faces Long Island Sound.
“It’s amazing to see a storm on the water,” Helen Selmon said. “When the surge hit you could feel the whole house vibrate.”
Her husband Tracy, an engineer, said it wasn’t the wind that vibrated the homes. Itt was the “seismic shock” of the waves pounding the shoreline. Their home, which sits about 20 feet above the water, sustained minor damage but their electricity was out until late Friday.
When the storm subsided, Helen and Tracy joined neighbors as they examined the damage to the road. They later watched as crews created a temporary lane out of their front lawns.
Helen Selmon said she and her husband are pleased with the town’s response but are eager for a permanent fix. “They need to do something,” she said.
Despite the storm and the road problems, Helen Selmon said they wouldn’t consider living anywhere else. “You can’t trade the view, even with the storms.”
Louise LaMontagne, president of the Linden Shore District, also had a first-hand observation of the storm’s wrath.
“I went down there at the height of the storm,” LaMontagne said. “The waves carved out under the structure of the road.” Although she has lived in the Indian Neck area most of her life, she has never seen that much damage to their only access road. “I was heartbroken,” she said. “The water side [of the road] is completely inaccessible.”
She is very appreciative of the town’s response. “What they’ve done so far looks good,” LaMontagne said. “Safety is our number one concern. We have all the confidence in the world that town will keep us safe and fix it right.”
The Linden Shore District, which was formed in 1959 as an erosion control board, has jurisdiction over the trees, beaches, and recreational areas along Linden Avenue. It includes residents from nearly half the streets on the peninsula and is a separate taxing district. It is also tasked with maintaining flood erosion control systems.
According to the Linden Shore District’s Web site, the Indian Neck-Pawson Park peninsula was inhabited by the Totoket Indians, led by Chief Pawson during the 17th century. By 1716, the Indians had sold the property to the First Ecclesiastical Society of the First Congregational Church of Branford. The Society held leases on the some of the property until it was transferred to the Linden Shore District in 1967.
It is not known what role the Linden Shore District will play in the decision-making process regarding a permanent solution for the road and seawalls. The association held an emergency meeting last week to discuss storm damage, and will hold a regular meeting Sept. 14.
Across the peninsula, Carole Ford has lived in a 100-year-old home in the Pawson Park neighborhood since 1967. She, too, is appreciative of how quickly the town came to their aid.
“I think they did a good job. They were in there right away,” Ford said. But she is eager for some long-term answers to the road. “It’s the only way in and out. We have to have it.”
Ford recalled the damage Hurricane Gloria did to her home in 1985. “We were very lucky this time,” she said. “Gloria was worse for us but this one was worse for other people. It just depends which way the wind is blowing.”
Electrical service wasn’t restored to Ford’s neighborhood until Saturday afternoon. She was particularly impressed with how the utility crews from Missouri worked non-stop to restore power. “Then they walked down to the beach because they had never seen water like this,” Ford said of the crews. “What we take for granted, they were amazed to see.”
Sean Hines, 20, a volunteer firefighter since he was 14, worked with the Indian Neck-Pine Orchard Company as they responded to around-the-clock to emergency calls during the hurricane. The station is on the landward side of the peninsula and he was walking on Linden Avenue when the waves were undermining the rocks from beneath the road.
“It was intense,” Hines said. “We were up there while the road was eroding, and a massive wave washed up and threw a rock right in front of my face.” He was not injured and continued to work.
Hines said was impressed with the way people helped each other and the response the firefighters received from residents. “The ladies baked us cookies and brownies when they got their power back,” he said with a smile.
During yesterday’s update from town officials, DaRos announced that a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) will be set up in Branford soon so that private homeowners may document their losses and hurricane-related repairs to FEMA.
According to information from the governor’s office, homeowners must contact FEMA either by phone or online. To register with FEMA by phone, residents may call: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). The TTY line for people with speech or hearing disabilities is 1-800-462-7585. The line is open from 7 am to 10 p.m., 7 days per week.
Click here to register online and to fill out an application.
If residents have disaster assistance questions, they may call the FEMA Helpline at 1-800-621-3362.
DaRos also included a personal message. “I want to thank the businesses that offered their services during the storm and commend all town departments and citizens for their fine performance at the highest level.” He ended by congratulating residents, saying “we all got through this without any serious injury.”
The town’s Emergency Operation Center, which operated from the police department, will be closed. All shelters are now closed. All town departments will be back to normal hours effective today, except the transfer station which will remain open until 6 p.m.
Marcia Chambers contributed reporting for this story.