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Letter to the Editor: Building Town Garage in Flood Plain is Financially Short-Sighted

October 27, 2016 Government, Opinion, Referendum 1 Comment

To the Editor:

I urge Canton residents to vote NO on the referendum Nov. 8 asking that the town spend $3.8 million to build a new town garage in a flood plain beside the Farmington River.

From a strictly financial standpoint, constructing a new building in a known flood plain is short-sighted and unwise. Why would a town build in an area that floods and is projected to flood more in the future? The plans call for digging up soil from the neighboring ball field to create one-foot mounds on which to build the buildings, but the entire site and the access roads, including the fuel tanks that supply town vehicles, will still be in a flood plain. The DPW director has said that town crews will move the vehicles to a temporary location before storms hit to keep them safe. Why would we build a new building knowing this type of measure would be necessary?

The town is self-insured, but has stop-gap insurance – like a very high deductible – for when a loss exceeds a designated amount. What happens to the town’s finances when there is a flood and we have to pay out of pocket for repairs to the building and to replace equipment? Would you build your house on a dirt mound in a flood plain? With extreme weather, climate scientists and flood managers predict more frequent and more damaging floods nationwide, including Connecticut.

The floods that hit Louisiana in August were like nothing that had been seen there in centuries. In three days, 31 inches of rain fell near Baton Rouge. Satellite photos show that about a third of the August flooding in Louisiana occurred outside the local flood plain. Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at the University of California, Davis, who researches floods, says floods occurring outside the historical flood plain appear to be happening more often across the country.

If you are leaning toward voting for this because you think it’s the cheapest option, please think again. The cost of site work, moving the soil and flood plain mitigation makes this an expensive location. Add on the cost for repairs and replacement when the banks of the river flood, and it’s even more costly.

There are likely additional, less-expensive options, but the Board of Selectmen has not permitted the Permanent Municipal Building Committee to evaluate them with the smaller building footprint now being proposed. The Building Committee identified at least nine other viable sites in its report to the Board of Selectmen May 6, 2016.

Voting NO will not delay the process. The town does not intend to bond the project for more than a year, in late 2017. Construction is planned to start in spring of 2018. We can select another site that’s not in a flood plain and stay on this building schedule. Shouldn’t we build a public works facility that serves the needs of the town today and has room to expand if needed in the future? The proposed 14,100 square foot building meets today’s needs only and cannot be expanded.

As one of dozens of residents who has volunteered years of service on town boards – including the bipartisan Plan of Conservation and Development Committee – I have seen up close the give and take that results in a compromise plan for the town. Three decades of Town Plans have recommended moving the town garage away from the river. The bipartisan, all-volunteer Permanent Municipal Building Committee, which has studied locations for the town garage for eight years, recommends building the new garage on another site. The Upper Mill Pond Study, the Conservation Commission, the Collinsville Historic District Commission and last spring’s public survey all support moving the garage away from the river.

What’s the point of all these residents – Republicans, Independents and Democrats, newcomers and lifelong residents alike – devoting countless hours to studying issues and making recommendations based on evidence if the town’s voters ignore them? Please follow the recommendations of 30 years of study and vote NO on the referendum Nov. 8. There are less-expensive, more practical options. Urge the Selectmen to allow the Building Committee to review potential locations with the smaller building footprint so we can meet the bonding and construction schedule with a town garage that will serve the town and the DPW workers in all kinds of weather today and for at least the 20-year term of the loan.


Theresa Barger
Canton resident




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