Community News

Riiska Prepares FEMA Application

Firmer damage figures are becoming known stemming from the July flash floods in South Norfolk. First Selectman Matt Riiska said Thursday that he would submit an application for federal emergency relief Friday, although he cautioned there are still more expenses to be counted.

“There is a lot of paperwork involved,” he said, “but it appears that the cost of just roads, without any bridges included, is $600,000. The bridges will add another $3.5 million-plus, so the total is more than $4 million.”

Riiska reported last week that no declaration of emergency has been declared by the state. The state must document damages in excess of $6 million dollars to declare an emergency. “With the damage in the towns around, it could easily get over $6 million and we will go from there,” he said.

He has talked with engineers about preliminary plans for local bridges so that he can get in line for state and federal funding and is hopeful that the bridges will qualify for federal assistance, which reimburses 80 percent of the cost. The state shares 50 percent of the cost.

“My job is to find the other 20 percent,” Riiska said. “Given the circumstances, it would seem like the state and feds have to come with a greater portion of the costs—we can’t pay for these bridges with all the other things that are going on.”

He said that he must have costs so he can get the work qualified through the state DOT. “Once they say okay, then we can go to engineering, which will take several months. We have to make sure to get the survey work, boring and drilling done before winter. The plan would be to go to bid early in the spring.” 

Opportunity for Youth Service Offered

The United Church of Christ is offering all youth in Grades 6-12 an opportunity to engage in inservice projects in Norfolk and beyond. A first meeting has been set for Sunday, August 27, at 4:00 p.m. Pastor Erick Olsen said the group will gather about once a month to undertake service projects throughout the Northwest Corner, to enjoy some food and have a great time.

Specific location and plans are still being worked out. Those interested should email or text or call 860-303-0910.

$5 Million to Repair Bridges; Who Will Pay?

The town is making “excellent headway” on restoring washed-out roads following the flash floods that swept through South Norfolk in mid-July, according to First Selectman Matt Riiska. “But bridges are another thing,” he continued. 

He said the state has hired a contractor to clear away the debris of the washed-out bridge on Route 272 but he has yet to hear what the DOT’s plans are for its replacement.

“Our local bridges will be a long haul,” he said, predicting that it will cost about $5 million to restore the washed-out crossings. “We have an engineer to compile the preliminary information so we can get funding for it,” he said. “We’re putting information together for FEMA but so far the State has not issued an emergency declaration.”

He believes that such a declaration is necessary to qualify for FEMA funding. The state has to have $6 million in losses statewide and Litchfield County would have to have at least $840,000. “There should be no problem in documenting the losses,” he said. “I know farmers in the Connecticut River Valley are really hurting and Norfolk will be in the $5 million range without considering Route 272, so we’ll easily be near $6 million. We’ll collect all the paperwork and see what happens.”

In the short term, the funds for repairs will be taken from capital reserves. “We need to replenish that for other things,” he said. “If the FEMA money is there and we deserve the money, we should get the money. We have the ear of [state Rep.] Maria Horn, [state Sen.] Lisa Seminara, [Sen.] Dick Blumenthal and the Governor, but we might have to play the sympathy card.”

He said the River Place bridge, which ran into an unexpected snag during a planned replacement last year, may be nearing the point where work can resume. While work was progressing, workers found that the north wall of the bridge was not on a solid footing and had to be replaced. “They had to re-engineer it,” Riiska said, “and the DOT was supposed to approve the plans by the end of July.”

On a happier note, he said the town has received its state reimbursement for work done last year on Mountain Road bridge. 

Another Gas Spill Meeting Being Planned

First Selectman Matt Riiska hopes to have another gas spill informational meeting on Tuesday, August 8. He said work continues on Maple Avenue and is going well.

“We had a really good meeting with everyone last week, he said. “Everyone has worked together cooperatively. Sometimes it’s slow, but it’s slow for a number of reasons. They are excavating 12 to 14 feet deep to remove the contaminated soil. The sewer and water lines are only five or six feet deep and you can’t have them just hanging there.”

Haystack Woods Blasting to Begin

Work on the Haystack Woods affordable housing development was delayed this summer because of the need for blasting to allow construction of the road and infrastructure. Permission to do the blasting was recently secured from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“They are going to do some minor blasting tomorrow [Friday],” said First Selectman Matt Riiska. “They are setting up their monitoring system to make sure it won’t do any damage to the stone wall or anything else. It’s not Wile E. Coyote type of blasting. People would have to put their ear to the ground and then wonder if it was a truck going by to hear it.”

The Foundation for Norfolk Living, which has planned and is executing the project, hopes to get the road and any trenching to the house sites in before winter. “They want to get the binder course down on the road this fall and then start building in the spring,” said Riiska.

Clock on Church Tower Keeps Time Again

The clock on the front of the Church of Christ is running again after a repair of several months, keeping accurate time and striking the hour. However, the chimes cannot be connected until the steeple is back where it belongs. It currently sits on a special scaffolding beside the church.

The church, which has been engaged in a multi-year project to repair and restore its soaring steeple, announced last November that fundraising had been successful enough to allow repair of the clock and chimes. 

Flooding Update: Roads Accessible

All roads damaged when a cell of heavy rain passed through Norfolk Sunday afternoon were made accessible by late Monday afternoon. The only exception is Route 272 from Estey Road to Parker Hill Road.

The Norfolk Public Works Department worked clearing away downed trees and installing detour signs to direct traffic around washed-out areas. Riiska said caution should be used when travelling, especially in South Norfolk on Smith, Old Goshen, Estey and Parker Hill roads.

“Although the water level is going down, the sides of many roads are weak,” he said. “Please drive slowly.”

Public Works Supervisor Troy LaMere contacted many of the town’s vendors to help start to restore the roads. Three bridges were inspected Monday with the help of Cardinal Engineering and the bridges on Smith Road and Old Goshen Road at the intersection of Route 272 will need to be completely rebuilt. 

“This is going to be a long process,” said Riiska. “Residents of Old Goshen and Smith roads will need to use Bruey Road to access Route 272. We ask for your patience while we work to get back to normal.”

Norfolk Under State of Emergency

A cell of hard rain hit Norfolk yesterday afternoon, dumping seven inches of water in South Norfolk and washing out roads in several areas or making them unstable. 

First Selectman Matt Riiska said Route 272 in South Norfolk is impassable from Old Goshen to Bruey roads and that numerous roads, bridges and culverts are washed out.

The bridges at Old Goshen Road and on Smith Road are gone. Public Works Superintendent Troy LeMere said Parker Hill Road is in bad shape with “a lot of water, trees and wires down and that several dirt roads washed out and impassable.”

LeMere said 2.5 inches of rain fell in the town center and that seven inches were recorded in South Norfolk. South Norfolk was further inundated when a beaver dam let go.

Riiska asked residents to “be smart and stay home,” not venturing forth to look at the damage.

The town has declared a state of emergency. The fire department manned the firehouse overnight to monitor rainfall. 

The agencies contacted many residents last evening who are isolated due to the road closures and will continue wellness checks today. Tobey Pond has been closed for the day.

LeMere said more rain is expected today and town crews are monitoring the state of the infrastructure. “More roads are being damaged as we speak,” he said, adding that rain was predicted for Sunday but that town officials had no idea of the intensity of the impending storm. “Within 90 minutes five inches was reported in South Norfolk,” he said.

It is the second time in nine months that Norfolk has declared a state of emergency. The massive gas spill last November caused disruptions that have extended to this day. “The fortunate thing is we all know the drill,” said Riiska, “and our Public Works and EMS are on it. I have no doubt we are in good hands.”

He has contact State Rep. Maria Horn informing her that the town will seek assistance.

Riiska said that it will take a long time for the town to correct all the damage to roadways and thanked residents in advance for their patience and cooperation. LeMere said he has contractors lined up for Tuesday to start to make roads passable.

Book Group to Read, Discuss “The Summer Book”

The Book Group, which is sponsored by the Norfolk Library and facilitated by former professor Mark Scarborough, is reading “The Summer Book” by Tove Jansson for its August 10 session. All are welcome to participate. The group reads, then discusses the books via Zoom on select Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Participants can choose to attend either session. For more information or to register, click here.

Remediation of Maple Avenue Begins Monday

Work will begin Monday on remediation of Maple Avenue following last November’s massive gas spill, according to First Selectman Matt Riiska.

He said work will begin near the Manor House where a wall will be removed and its materials stored for later reconstruction. Earth will be excavated, tested and removed when deemed necessary. 

Work will then move to installation of a headwall on Maple Avenue as part of the stormwater drainage system. With that in place, crews will move on to Pettibone Lane, where extensive excavation is anticipated to remove gas contamination.

Riiska said Maple Avenue will be closed to through traffic during the work because of the heavy equipment in the road. If necessary, residents in the region of the heaviest contamination will have alternate accommodations offered.

Remediation work has been completed on Route 44 and landscaping has been started. It is hoped that families displaced by the gas spill remediation will be back in their homes by July 1, but Riiska said monitoring of the area will go on for some time and will be addressed as needed.

Residents who have questions are asked to call the First Selectman’s office at 860-542-5829.