Community News

Colorful Quilt is First Fruit of Botelle Theme

The first fruit of Botelle Elementary School’s 2023-24 theme, “Celebrating All and Creating Community” has ripened in the form of a colorful paper quilt. 

September’s focus was Celebrating Creativity, with Botelle art teacher Shana Bazelmans initiating a community-wide effort to create a community quilt using paper patches from students, staff members and various people in the greater community—firefighters, EMTs, local shopkeepers, librarians, bankers, municipal employees and town volunteers. 

All were asked to use a small paper triangle in anyway they pleased—drawing a picture or perhaps an abstract design—using any color pen, pencil, colored pencils or markers. Now the quilt is assembled it will be displayed at the library and other locations around town.

Riiska Details Deficit from a Catastrophic Year

First Selectman Matt Riiska brought a mixture of good and bad news to the Board of Finance Tuesday night, giving them an update on the financial consequences of a year full of emergencies.

“It’s been an awful year financially,” he said, “from the gas spill to snow in the spring, to floods—but the way I look at it is, no one has gotten hurt, and we will make it work.”

The gas spill and the July flash floods cost the town dearly. Riiska noted that the federal government has refused FEMA emergency funds because Connecticut did not meet the $6 million threshold for damage. Norfolk alone had $5.8 million in damage to two bridges, but FEMA did not consider those as part of its tally because there were Connecticut sources of funding for them. Indeed, the state has agreed to do the engineering and construction for the bridges, holding the town harmless except for engineering and oversight during construction. 

Nevertheless, the town had to pay $567,000 to repair infrastructure following the floods. There are still two culverts left to repair, for a total of about another $225,000.

Riiska said that he has applied for the $209,000 the town accrued in LoCIP funding, which will decrease the deficit to $369,000. He has instructed Public Works foreman Troy LeMere not to expend road funds unless necessary. “We have about $143,000 that we haven’t spent, which would leave a balance of $215,647,” he said. “We’ve been very diligent about not doing road work unless it was absolutely necessary. But those are optimistic numbers. I can’t say that we won’t encounter catastrophic road work during the winter and spring.”

He is looking for other avenues of funding, “but it’s one of those situations where there is not a lot you can do about it.”

He noted that residents on Smith and Old Goshen roads have expressed concerns about emergency access to their homes with the bridges out. Riiska is investigating the costs of temporary bridges. “Starting this minute, those permanent bridges will not be built for another three years,” he said. 

He learned just before the meeting that it would cost a total of $444,000 to purchase and install a temporary bridge. This would be on top of the $369,000 shortfall for road work. “We might need a supplemental tax if we did that,” he said. 

The temporary bridge would be strong enough to support a fire truck and would have a lifespan of up to 10 years. Riiska said it could serve Smith Road while construction takes place on Old Goshen Road, and then be dismantled and sold when no longer needed.

He said cleanup from last November’s gas spill continues. Maple Avenue’s reclamation work is nearly done, but two families are still displaced on Route 44 where recent testing showed more contamination. “We’re chasing things in areas where we originally worked and were not allowed to finish,” he said.

How do Firefighters Tackle Really Bad Fires?

When the fire alarm goes off, it sets in motion well-rehearsed procedures designed to prevent loss of life and property. But how do companies handle major conflagrations such as the fire at the Langendoerfer home that are beyond the capacity of one company to control?

Sunday’s fire was a textbook illustration of mutual aid and coordinated response.

“All incidents start and end local,” said Jon Barbagallo, public information officer for the Norfolk Volunteer Fire Department. “The first officer on the scene makes the determination based on necessity. Sunday morning’s fire started with the Norfolk fire department and ambulance, but active structure fires automatically cue Litchfield Dispatch to send mutual aid.” 

“Sunday’s fire was an immediate second alarm,” Barbagallo said. “It wasn’t necessarily equipment that was needed—what we requested was a manpower strike team. We needed interior firefighters for crew relief, so they brought in Thomaston, Watertown, Harwinton and Woodbury. It was the biggest response we have had since last November’s gas spill.”

The strike team gathered at the Drakeville Fire House in Torrington and responded to Norfolk from there. Barbagallo said there were probably 50 active firefighters on the scene Sunday night.

The regional fire departments have developed plans for mutual aid and Litchfield Dispatch knows which resources to dispatch and in which order. Practices are held throughout the year to give firefighters experience in responding to a scene. 

County coordinators add to the organization of services. “County coordinators assist the incident commander with shortfalls,” said Barbagallo. “They collect ID tags, help with the staging area, keeping track of what equipment is where, who can come to the scene and who will back up other companies by manning their firehouses. Coordinators free the incident commander up when you have a flood of people coming in.”

The county coordinators and incident commander use special command boards that were purchased through regional funds and that are scattered around the county—Norfolk has one in its firehouse.

The firefighters were called to Langendoerfer residence at 3:48 a.m. with many leaving the scene by mid-morning. But the work was not yet over. All the equipment had to be cleaned, dried and returned to the fire trucks in readiness for another call.

“That wasn’t complete until Monday night,” Barbagallo said. “That’s the advantage of having multiple trucks—for a day our backup truck was the lead truck so there was no reduction in service.”

Norfolk does not own a ladder truck, the most expensive piece of equipment, but Barbagallo said there are four in neighboring towns that can come to a scene. 

NCA to Unveil First Sculpture September 2

The Norfolk Community Association, a non-profit group dedicated to beautifying Norfolk’s common areas, will unveil its first installation for a proposed sculpture trail Saturday, September 2, at 2:00 p.m. in Robertson Plaza.

“Many of the projects we do are restorations of existing monuments,” said NCA Co-President Doreen Kelly, “but Norfolk is challenging because it is so divided by Route 44. We thought a sculpture trail could join the different parts of town.”

They approached Jon Riedeman, who specializes in wildlife sculptures, to create their first original sculpture, “Owl of Good Fortune.” 

“We decided we wanted an owl,” Kelly said. “Owls are indigenous to Norfolk—this one is a great horned owl—and the sculpture will sit on the plaza with a view of City Meadow and Haystack Mountain where they live. We wanted the first sculpture to be placed where it will be very visible.”

It took more than a year to complete the sculpture, which is cast in bronze and mounted on a granite pedestal.

Kelly said the NCA hopes to install one new sculpture every year, funded through private donations and grants. “If our wish could come true, we would have many. I would say there will be at least 10 over a very long period of time. We’ve had a lot of public interest in this project. We consider this as a way to re-enforce Norfolk’s identity.”

Walter Godlewski, NCA treasurer and co-chairman of the sculpture initiative, said Norfolk has a rich artistic history and is home to several significant monuments, many of which the NCA has worked to restore in the past few years. “While we will continue our preservation and beautification efforts, our latest project provides an exciting additional focus for the organization,” he said.

Land Trust Spotlights South Norfolk Woodlands

The Norfolk Land Trust is encouraging residents to get outside and enjoy summer in the South Norfolk Woodlands. There is one trail open, an easy to moderate 2.8 mile trail (out and back). It winds through a deciduous and coniferous forest to a glacial erratic.

There is also a short walk to a small pond and future bird blind. This 235-acre preserve of forest, swamp and wetland was purchased in 2022. The trail begins at a driveway with parking at 220 Bruey Road, 4.1 miles from Village Green via Route 272 South, Winchester Road and Bruey Road.

Laurel Way Closed to Heavier Trucks

Paving on Laurel Way has been completed this week and the road will be open only for local traffic for two weeks. Three-axle trucks and larger must use alternate routes.

The DOT and O&G construction will be paving Route 44 in the area of the gas spill within the next week. The short section will be milled and then resurfaced. Motorists should expect delays.

Next Party on the Plaza is August 26

The next Party on the Plaza is set for 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, August 26, on Robertson Plaza when the Ken Morr Band will perform a free concert featuring a mix of folk rock/ Americana (per Paul Simon, Graham Nash) against the beautiful backdrop of City Meadow and Haystack Mountain. Food and beverages will be available.

Natural Resource Inventory Can Be Purchased

The Norfolk Conservation Commission is promoting the new Natural Resource Inventory this weekend at the Hub and Farmers Market.

The 159-page book contains lists, charts, maps and tidbits about the town. Printed copies can be purchased at the Hub for $30 (cash or check only) Saturday and Sunday during Weekend in Norfolk. Checks should be made out to Norfolk Conservation Commission. Supplies are limited.

After WIN weekend, the NRI can be purchased at the Town Clerk’s office. Alternately, a PDF can be downloaded for free.

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.