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Friday, October 31, 2014

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Letter: Open bulkheads threat to Penfield area

Published 10:33 am, Friday, July 11, 2014
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Fairfield was spared flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Arthur, but the storm season is just starting. Has the town and Penfield Pavilion Building Committee taken adequate steps to protect the already damaged pavilion and the surrounding neighborhood from risks caused by openings in the bulkhead at Penfield Beach?

For months now, expert after expert told the committee that there is risk to the sagging pavilion and to the neighborhood if another flood hits the beach. Recently, the chairman of the 2009 Penfield committee called for more attention to the bulkhead. Why hasn't expert advice been heeded and the openings permanently closed for this storm season? A poorly conceived, last-minute effort to block the openings when Hurricane Sandy approached did not stop flooding. What will happen if another hurricane impacts Fairfield this year?

The current Building Committee found the budget to erect a fence, add alarms, and remove glass from the shuttered pavilion, but the site itself seems as vulnerable to flooding now as it was when the committee first met in 2013. Why the delay? Is it expensive to permanently close the two openings in the bulkhead? If funds beyond the discretionary sum the committee already has are needed, why wasn't the money requested during the just concluded budget cycle?

The lack of adequate attention to the bulkhead is an exception to the meticulous work of the Penfield Building Committee. The committee is engaged in a thorough process working towards the best solution for repairing Penfield. Although it promised to make all documents public, it has not posted to its website its timeline/goals, report to the selectmen, conservation director's presentation on flooding/erosion, and other documents. Has the committee's focus on fixing the pavilion unreasonably subordinated attention to flooding via the bulkhead? What happened to document transparency?

The committee is not alone in its responsibility for preparation for this storm season. Even though the first selectman was told explicitly by many members of the public in 2013 that flooding via the bulkhead was a serious concern, he drafted a charter for this Penfield Building Committee that made neighborhood flooding the last item and lowest priority. The town's top flooding experts, former Conservation Director Tom Steinke and Rick Grauer of the Flood Control Board, were not included in First Selectman Tetreau's introduction of town resources when the Penfield Committee received its orientation.

It is not surprising, then, that the committee's slow response to flooding reflects the first selectman's lethargy. In its first sessions, the committee said it did not have responsibility to deal with flooding. To its credit, as experts (including Grauer and Steinke) and the public addressed the committee, the committee decided that it should assure that flooding from the pavilion site does not "exacerbate" neighborhood flooding. The committee noted, though, that neighborhood flooding can come from other pathways in addition to the bulkhead. That is a fair analysis, but analysis is not enough. Why hasn't this serious risk been mitigated by now?

Jan R. Reber

Fairfield