Washed away: residents seek help as runoff from city project destroys home

Washed away: residents seek help as runoff from city project destroys home

Brothers Jacob Laferriere, left, and Derek Laferriere stand outside the Reservoir Avenue home they say has been plagued with runoff and flooding since a 2004 project by the Woonsocket Public Works Department. (Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)

WOONSOCKET – At the top of Reservoir Avenue, the foundation of the Laferriere family home is cracking.

Walls bulge in the basement, once a livable space but now covered in what the owners believe is black mold.

The yard outside is bumpy, filled with hills and channels, as water has washed away much of the dirt.

Walkways have also washed away, along with the garden that Doreen Laferriere used to maintain in the side yard.

Family members say it wasn’t always this way. When Doreen’s parents, Marcel and Constance Lamoureux, bought the property more than 40 years ago, she says the lot was wet at times, but manageable. Marcel built dams to direct water from the hills above, and a small bridge was created in the back yard to cross over the resulting stream.

But shortly after Marcel died in 2004, the city embarked on a project to replace drainage pipes to direct runoff from nearby Bernon Heights Elementary School. The family says the ground in front of their property was raised some 8 to 10 feet, in what they describe as an ineffective engineering decision that over time has ruined their home.

Photos taken just after the work was complete show that since the start, water has bypassed that city drainage system, instead drowning their yard.

“It made the situation something we were unable to manage ourselves,” 31-year-old Jacob Laferriere, Doreen’s son, said of the work. “It’s left the yard at a different slope than where it started.”

Jacob’s brother, Derek Laferriere, says he has also watched as the property he grew up on gradually washes away.

“When it’s raining for a couple of hours, I’ve watched four places where it comes down,” he said of the eroding yard.

Initially, the family says they made attempts to address the problem on their own, punching holes through the foundation of the house and installing a drainage system. But within the first year of the 2004 public works project, they say the basement was covered in mold and family heirlooms once stored on the shelves were destroyed.

Jacob and Derek note that they were not living in the family home when the major problems began. But they say they’ve watched as their grandmother has tried unsuccessfully over the years to get help from city officials.

The routine, they say, is always the same.

After numerous calls to City Hall, workers from the highway department visit the property. They suggest the family instead contact the water department. Water employees direct them to a city engineer, who visits the property and says that something must be done to fix the situation. But no one ever follows up.

“Multiple times we have gone through the same exact departments, and the same steps are made year after year,” Jacob said. “They send someone, pacify us, then send someone again.”

Along the drain area, Jacob notes that invasive bamboo sprouted up as a result of the cheap fill used in the initial city project. The bamboo was among issues noted in a letter written to the city by Roberge Avenue neighbor Yvonne Schey in support of the family.

“I am in total sympathy with my neighbors who have suffered much from this and hope that someday soon the city will rectify the existing problem, which they have created,” Schey wrote.

The family’s problems worsened in 2014 when an insurance inspector visited the home and took note of mold on the exterior of the house, ultimately cancelling their policy.

Last year, after grandmother Constance declared she was so frustrated with the situation that she was ready to sell the property at a discount, it was Jacob who took action. He met with city Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino, who went out to look at the problem and devised a plan he said would help.

“It sounded like he was really going to do something,” Jacob said.

But Jacob says the city’s remediation ultimately consisted of cleaning a drain and chopping down some of the bamboo. And he says it’s done nothing to help with the ongoing flooding.

Speaking with The Breeze this week, D’Agostino said he did his best to listen to and accommodate the family.

“It’s a natural occurance really. It’s at the base of a very large hill and water runs downhill,” he said of the Laferriere house.

“I personally live in an area that’s low lying and when it rains very heavily, it comes onto my property,” D’Agostino said.

The public works director declined to comment on whether or not work by the city years ago had worsened the problem.

“I wasn’t part of that,” he said. “Maybe that’s what they thought was good at the time.”

But family members say they expected the city to do more.

“When it’s face to face, they always sound like they want to help,” Jacob said.

Currently, tree roots are exposed outside the home. Decking support beams and the cement foundations below propane and oil tanks are now being compromised.

Derek recalls opening the door between the basement and the backyard after a hurricane.

“It was like I had white water rapids going by,” he said.

“I only go down there when I absolutely have to,” Doreen said of the current condition in the basement.

The family says that city workers occasionally place bales of hay in front of their yard as an attempt to mitigate the problem, but it does little to help. Across the street, a neighbor who moved in after the drainage problem was created has dumpsters of dirt brought in to combat the erosion.

It’s the type of solution members of the Laferrierre family say they can’t afford. And they say they’ve tried to work with the city to avoid a costly legal battle.

Jacob notes that after dozens of documented visits and calls to City Hall spanning more than a decade, it was only last October that the family was given the city’s property damage claims form. The family has since begun obtaining quotes on the damage, which they estimate to be more then $100,000.

Frustrated with the lack of action and damage to their home, in 2012 family members made a decision they say they now regret: they stopped paying city taxes. With a tax bill now totaling around $20,000, the house is headed to tax sale on Sept. 22.

“Just imagine if the city conducted a project that bordered your property and the result was excessive water runoffs that were never there before and eroded and damaged your property...what would you do?” Derek asked.

Jacob says he believes any discussion on outstanding taxes should take into account damages suffered by his family. In a meeting last year with City Tax Assessor Elyse Pare, he says he explained as much to no avail.

“I stated to them I agree someone should pay taxes, but not to a city that is allowing their home to wash away and doing nothing about it,” Jacob said.

D’Agostino said the city has no current plans to fix the problems.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.

The basement of the Laferrieres’ home after a recent rain storm. The family says that flooding problems began after the city installed an ineffective drainage system in the street beside their home in 2004.

Comments

Don't know whosoever told them to punch holes in their foundation, but that weakened the structure. I'd let the house go to the city, leave, and kiss Woonsocket goodbye. Why torture yourselves? For money? Not worth it....life can, and is, better elsewhere. Less taxes, less insurance, in other places. Move on. Let them have their mess. This is a no win situation, count your blessings, and move on.