Costly cleanup: Total may surpass $1M in some towns

NOTE: Front page in both papers

By Lisa Backus and Brenda Maguire
Staff Writers

In the aftermath of the snowstorm that still left about 3 percent of CL&P customers without power last night, municipal officials Monday were tallying the damage to their towns, with some saying estimates could reach in excess of $1 million, if not much higher.

The figures will be used by the state to craft a major disaster declaration request that will be submitted to President Barack Obama for approval.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has already received federal approval for towns to submit 72 hours worth of costs for clean-up and emergency protection. But most Central Connecticut officials are saying the money wouldn’t come close to the cost of overtime and cleanup that’s expected to continue for weeks.

“Seventy-two hours was a nice gesture but we believe based on our estimates that we still have 45,000 to 50,000 cubic yards that still needs to be picked up,” Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback said. “It’s not unrealistic to think the total cost will exceed $1 million.”

Throughout the region municipal leaders have been contending with scores of residents without power and downed trees that are now clogging the sides of roadways.

New Britain Public Works Director Mark Moriarty said his worst-case scenario would be another snowstorm that requires plowing while the brush and tree limbs are still straddling roads.

“We’ve had overtime but it hasn’t been an extraordinary amount of overtime,” said Moriarty, who was working Monday to determine if additional crews should be hired to pick up debris. “It’ll probably take until the end of the month to pick it all up.”

Both New Britain and Southington had more than 50 percent of residents without power at one time and opened shelters where up to 100 residents stayed during the peak of outages. New Britain residents should have their storm-related debris at the curb by Sunday, officials said.

Bristol officials, who had more than 80 percent of residents without power after the storm, said they plan on having crews out from “dawn until dusk” to pick up debris — and they are still estimating the cost.

“Our crews will be going street by street and they are still taking care of ‘hangers’ (tree limbs that are broken but haven’t fallen),” said Bristol Public Works analyst Sheree Gorneault, who’s in charge of compiling figures to submit for federal funding. “The preliminary requests are based on our crews working all day Saturday and all day Sunday with all hands on deck. We’re going to need to do at least two sweeps throughout the city. It’s truly a disaster area.”

Municipal officials began tallying their figures Monday to submit to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection in the hopes of receiving a major disaster declaration from Obama. If a major disaster is declared, municipalities will receive 75 percent reimbursement for storm-related costs.

The state must meet a threshold of $4.8 million in overall storm-related costs with each county meeting a separate threshold to be considered for 75 percent reimbursement, state Emergency Services spokesperson Scott Devico said. Hartford County, which encompasses Berlin, Bristol, New Britain, Newington, Plainville and Southington, must come up with $3 million in costs to meet the threshold. “We believe we have a very good case for a major disaster declaration,” Devico said.

Berlin Town Manager Denise McNair said she doesn’t have an exact estimate but “it could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Debris pick-up in Berlin will start next week. Residents should put storm-related vegetative debris curbside and not on the street. She also asked for it to be in four-foot long, manageable pieces. Regular fall leaf pick-up in Berlin will still take place from Nov. 14 to 18 and from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.

McNair predicts it will take about a month for the clean-up to be finished. “We’ll be working on Saturdays if we can afford the overtime,” she said.

Plainville officials were forced to cancel leaf pick-up because they couldn’t handle the amount of trees and brush left by the storm. Town Manager Robert Lee said people will need to find a way to compost leaves or to take them to the transfer station, which will be cost-free. “We can’t do both … We needed to make a decision far enough in advance that people could make arrangements,” Lee said.

His preliminary estimates were pegged at $150,000 to $200,000 for storm clean-up and emergency overtime.

Newington Mayor Mike Lenares did not have an estimate on the cost of clean-up but said the process will start today or Wednesday.

Lenares is encouraging residents to get debris to the curb and to avoid blocking fire hydrants, mail boxes or utility boxes.

“We encourage residents to just put out things related to storm damage,” Lenares said.

Leaf pickup will be postponed by the highway department until debris pick-up is completed.

Plymouth officials also hadn’t added up the costs but said they expected clean-up to last for weeks.

“The Board of Education ran into overtime to man the shelter,” Mayor Vincent Festa said. “This is going to take quite awhile, there are places that haven’t even been touched where debris is in the roadway.”

But Festa said it could have been worse. “It’s been a major disaster throughout the state,” he said. “But we’ve been more fortunate than some communities.”

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