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.

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