By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, May 26, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
HAMPTON -- Residents from the water-soaked Taylor River Estates neighborhood came before selectmen Monday night to voice their dismay with what they said was a lack of response from the town during the recent rainstorms which hit the Seacoast area.
Speaking on behalf of her neighbors, resident Mary Boynton told the board, "My question is, where were town officials that day?"
Boynton claimed that multiple phone calls for assistance failed to yield the results needed to help the neighborhood avoid the flood damage which ultimately occurred.
During the rainfall, flood waters rose steadily (related to what was apparently the blockage of a nearby dam), entering houses and causing so much damage that several of the homes needed to be completely gutted once the waters had receded.
"This is a serious issue," Boynton said, telling selectmen she was given unsatisfactory answers, or no answers at all, at just about every turn. "We’re tired of this; we’re tired of being treated like second-class citizens because we live on the west side of town."
Located to the west of Route 1 on Towle Farm Road, Taylor River Estates is not hooked up to town water and sewer, and residents are responsible for their own trash removal.
Efforts by Boynton and her neighbors to obtain emergency assistance at the state level also seemed to come to no avail.
"Could this have been avoided?" asked Boynton. "You bet, if only one person had — pardon the pun — given a dam(n)."
She added, "All I ask is that we be treated as fairly as other citizens, as taxpayers in this town."
Discussion among the board turned to the town’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which is staffed by department heads, the town’s police and fire chiefs, the town manager, and a selectmen’s representative (among others) during emergency situations.
"Where was our Emergency Operations Center?" asked Selectman Chairman Virginia Bridle-Russell.
Noting that the horrific weather was worse that what the area normally experiences, Town Manager James Barrington admitted that the center "was not open."
Bridle-Russell then directed Barrington to ask Fire Chief Hank Lipe "why it wasn’t open."
(Later on, Lipe arrived at the meeting to discuss the matter. He explained how demand and staffing are the main criteria in opening the EOC. Lipe also noted how it is necessary for someone on the fire crew to take over the operation of the department when he is staffing the EOC. However, he added, because of a current shortage of manpower in the department and no deputy fire chief, Lipe himself must continue to function as chief. He admitted that "our everyday system can’t handle a storm of this magnitude; we were way beyond critical mass." Department personnel did as much as they could given the extreme circumstances, and the fire department "was out straight," said Lipe.)
Prior to a three-minute break before moving on to other business, discussion continued around the table. Selectman Bill Lally told Mary Boynton, "You’re absolutely correct; it’s an embarrassment."
Lally then asked Boynton, "Do you have stuff to pick up?" When it was acknowledged that the residents did, Lally said "Let’s get the [waste collection] trucks down there to pick this stuff up and help these people out." Selectmen voiced their agreement by having collections take place both this week and next.
"It’s an absolute priority to get this done," added Lally.
Selectmen also discussed developing a checklist with contact information for officials at the state and local levels so that communication can flow the next time such an emergency situation occurs in town.