The 1100 block of Concord Drive is a bucolic, tree-lined avenue situated in the southern part of the borough across the PATCO tracks from Crows Woods. After the storms that rocked the region in mid-June, however, that quiet idyll has been interrupted by the harsh realities of the damage flood waters have wreaked.
The Luciotti and Vespe families, next-door neighbors on Concord, are dealing with the fallout the best they can. They’re upset that they can’t get any answers about when they can begin to put the pieces back together.
Borough administrator Sharon McCullough revealed to The Sun via email the extent of the damage to the storm sewers in the area surrounding Concord:
“We had damage to the headwall that connects the pipes from Concord to the stream, it is off of the road going to Crows Woods and in between the property owned by Wedgewood and Plays and Players. The second one is in Mountwell Park by Scout Field.”
This first part of McCullough’s revelation is what concerns the families most. Both families vented their frustrations at a special meeting of the board of commissioners on July 2 that was initially scheduled to formally introduce new Commissioner for Public Works Bob Marshall.
However, the families monopolized public comment regarding the slow response all local and regional agencies have had in response to their respective dire situations.
Due to the headwall failure, the Vespes have been forced to live in a recreational vehicle on their front lawn, as Jennifer Vespe needed to be pulled out of her own basement due to flood waters that inundated the split-level home in the middle of the night. The Luciotti’s house has been condemned due to foundation issues, and they are currently living with neighbors, having lost everything.
“This is not a natural disaster. Not everybody on my block got hit, it was just me and the Luciottis and it’s a disgrace we have to live through all this,” said Will Vespe in a phone conversation with The Sun about the borough’s efforts to try and frame the damages from the storm as enough to warrant federal aid.
There has been no word as of yet if any municipality in Burlington, Camden or Gloucester counties would receive FEMA funds. Former Haddonfield commissioner for public works, John Moscatelli, stated that damages in the borough would have to total in the area of $12.6 million for it to be FEMA eligible.
Patricia Luciotti also vented her frustration through social media, revealing that the United Services Automobile Association, an organization intended to assist current and former military members, wouldn’t process claims on the damage to her house and her vehicles, which were total losses due to the flood. Luciotti maintains the damage was not an act of God, but rather due to catastrophic failure of municipal property.
“I haven’t been able to get my thoughts straight because I can’t even start a full-time job. I’ve had to push back my start date and everything because my family’s out of house and home. No one wants to take responsibility for something that’s 100 percent a due-diligence error on not only your part, but on (borough engineers), Remington and Vernick,” said Patricia’s daughter, Dallas Luciotti, at the meeting.
“My parents almost lost me. If it would have cracked in one more place, I would have gotten sucked right into it, it was right underneath my bedroom. Jess and I are lucky to be alive, and no one wants to take responsibility for this.”
There is expected to be a special “dine and donate” event for the affected families on Monday, July 15 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Passariello’s on Kings Highway. There is also a GoFundMe page set up for the Luciottis, which can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/help-the-luciottis-massive-storm-damage.
“I understand your frustration. We’re pulling together to get you as many resources as we can as fast as we can. Unfortunately due to the insurance vs. our borough insurance, it all comes down to the same thing. They’re going to send adjusters out to look at it, you’re going to claim that it was deficient in design of the water back there, and it’s a process. And it takes a long time … that’s a private company (USAA) and you watch their commercials and they act like they’re your best friends, especially when your father was in the service,” said Mayor Neal Rochford in response to Luciotti’s concerns.
The Vespe family also has a GoFundMe set up in their name, which can be found at: www.gofundme.com/the-vespe-family.
Rochford said he’s reaching out to state and federal agencies as well as the county, to get them involved in discussions about the flooding, since infrastructure – and the need to bring it up to modern standards – is a county-wide, interconnected issue.
“We need to have this discussion with our engineers … about how it happened, why it happened, how can it be avoided in the future. It’s going to involve our public works crew as well, the insurance, the emergency management, we can put you in touch with resources like the Red Cross and others, and as the mayor mentioned there are state and federal agencies involved,” added Commissioner Jeffrey Kasko.
“All of us are involved and we are not going to give up, we are not going to look the other way. You have to give us a little bit more time. I can’t give you all the answers about when or how, or whose fault it was. We’ll investigate those things and we’ll find out and we’ll come up with a better solution because nobody wants this to happen again to anyone.”