With tempers already flaring due to the perceived slow response of borough, county, state and federal agencies, more than a dozen Haddonfield residents directly affected by the devastating June 20 storm gathered at Borough Hall on July 15 to once again voice their frustrations.
However, the three-man body of newly-appointed Commissioner for Public Works Bob Marshall, Commissioner for Revenue and Finance Jeffrey Kasko, and Mayor Neal Rochford were not backing down in the face of accusations from residents during a public comment portion of the commissioners’ monthly meeting made contentious by the breakdown of the air-conditioning system in the building.
Borough administrator Sharon McCullough told The Sun more than a week after the June 20 event that there was damage to the headwall that connects pipes from Concord Drive to the stream, off of the road going to Crows Woods and between the property owned by Wedgewood and Haddonfield Plays & Players.
In addition, there was damage to the outfall at the bottom of Lakeview. Inspections further found that the storm system pulled away from the road at the bottom of the hill on Centre, and there were two sinkholes discovered: one on Homestead and another at the end of Washington at Kings Highway.
“Our records show our inlets were free of debris before that June 20 storm, but of course that was not enough. We’ve had active monitoring of the last storm (July 11 rainfall). We’ve had folks driving around and witnessing firsthand, where the water is traveling. These issues were decades in development, not something that happened overnight. The particular storm of June 20 measured in the Concord area, about six feet over the ‘100-year storm’ level. We have Remington & Vernick (contracted engineers) evaluating the efficacy of the storm sewer,” said Marshall.
Along with the Vespe and Luciotti families, neighbors on Concord Drive whose houses are either completely uninhabitable or severely damaged, several other residents informed those in borough governance of their tribulations over the last month.
Mike Amons of Lafayette Avenue spoke about the 15 feet of brown water that inundated his basement during the worst of the rainfall, causing thousands of dollars in damage and the loss of many sentimental items. Jason Beschen of Chews Landing Road circulated a photo taken in the storm’s aftermath of a lone kayaker having an easy time navigating the roadway in feet of pooled water from storm-drainage issues.
“I’m pleased to tell you that tomorrow (July 16) we’re evaluating a proposal from a firm that is going to come back and look over what Remington & Vernick and the existing system has done,” Marshall further explained.
Will Vespe was angered when informed that Remington & Vernick was still in the evaluative process of the Concord situation, incredulous that it would take almost a month to try and figure out if a simple grate collapse could be the cause debris and water could have blasted out the concrete that led to the headwall failure.
“I’m going to be brutally honest here, I don’t know why that thing failed. But what we’re doing is investigating and we’re going to hire a third party, an independent engineer to come in and give us the right answers. That’s what we have to do as elected officials. What we’re saying is, we’re going to get to that answer,” said Kasko, in response to anger from those in attendance that commissioners had no answers to provide at the meeting.
Kasko, though, expressed solidarity with the displeased citizenry, citing his frustration at the slow pace and cumbersome nature of the bureaucratic process after years working in government.
According to McCullough, in response to queries from the audience, Remington & Vernick’s services to the borough are renewed on a three-year contract, whose term is up in 2019. The commissioners are currently reviewing the firm’s performance and status.
Herb Hess, who revealed to those gathered that he was submitting a petition for the November election to fill the public works seat for the remainder of its two-year term, looked at the commissioners and intoned: “this is your Katrina moment.”
Hess went on to say he and other residents were looking for the three C’s from the borough going forward: compassion, communication and commitment.
According to both Marshall and Kasko, FEMA was scheduled to visit Haddonfield on the following day, July 16, to evaluate damages for possible federal disaster funding.
“I understand how frustrated everybody is, but we have to rely on the process for the insurance company to take place, their insurance carriers, our insurance carriers. We’re not sure what that outcome is going to be. FEMA looks at these things as if they are a major event, like a hurricane or a tornado. They don’t look precisely at severe thunderstorms as being catastrophic. We beg to differ with them because we’ve been out there and we’ve seen the devastation these waters have caused,” added Rochford.
Requests made to the borough regarding the updated number of damage complaints from residents, as well as damage estimates in dollars, were not available at time of publication. According to former commissioner for public works, John Moscatelli, a FEMA declaration would likely result from damages totaling almost $13 million.
“If you feel like you haven’t been heard, I don’t want you to leave here thinking that you haven’t,” Marshall added.
At the end of the meeting, residents affected by the flooding gathered their respective contact information and passed it along to appropriate personnel. Marshall said he would be amenable to meeting with residents on a weekly basis, or more frequently, if necessary.