Flooding issue ‘in limbo’

Flooding issue ‘in limbo’

Continual flooding has left several inches of standing water in the basement of 199 Eddie Dowling Highway. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A potential solution to flooding on Eddie Dowling Highway seems to have hit a roadblock as the town, state and a local property owner debate culpability for the source of the problem.

In March, Michael Mongeon, owner of a house at 199 Eddie Dowling Highway, approached the Town Council about submitting his property for a federal flood compensation program. Mongeon said the house had become uninhabitable due to severe flooding and well contamination issues stemming from its location on Eddie Dowling Highway that go back at least 14 years.

At the time, town councilors raised several concerns about the program, delaying a vote until Town Solicitor David Igliozzi could investigate it further.

Since then, the issue has only become more complicated after the town learned it may have to put up $50,000 to resolve the problem. The Building Resilient Infrastructures and Communities program, a federal hazard-reducing program administered through the state, requires the state to pay 75 percent of the $200,000 assessed value of the home and the local municipality the remaining 25 percent. If approved, Mongeon would no longer own the property, which would likely become a holding area for water runoff that flows through a culvert under the highway.

“If they don’t create a basin for the runoff, then the vegetation is going to keep going up the road and it’s going to take over those other houses. They’re going to lose their yard,” he said.

The problem has existed since at least 2007, when the previous property owners submitted a complaint to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation about high levels of sodium and chloride in the property’s well. Since then, Mongeon said he’s also experienced severe flooding, encroaching wetland vegetation and a maxed out septic system as the problems have worsened. Though the issue predates the construction of Dowling Village, Mongeon said he believes the shopping complex worsened the issue by creating additional water runoff directly across the street.

“You can run the sump pump 24 hours a day, you’re still going to have 6 to 8 inches of water in the basement of that house,” he said.

State officials have taken a careful approach to the issue, neither denying their involvement nor accepting full responsibility for the problems over the years. In a statement to The Breeze in March, Charles St. Martin, spokesperson for the RIDOT, said it hasn’t been determined how much of the salt in the property’s wells comes from stormwater from private versus public sources.

While Mongeon said he’s given up trying to rent the house to tenants, at least one neighbor has also expressed concern. Lisa Gagnon, the owner of the house next door at 209 Eddie Dowling Highway, said she’s worried her property will end up under water over time given the problems on the neighboring lot.

“I am putting every dollar into improvements for my property and have been/am very concerned what will happen here,” she told The Breeze in an email.

Despite the issues, Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski said he doesn’t think the town holds any culpability for the problem.

“It’s not a town of North Smithfield issue. It’s a RIDOT issue,” he said.

While the decision whether to participate in the program will ultimately be up to the Town Council, Zwolenski expressed concern that if the town paid a portion of the cost, it might be held responsible for maintaining whatever kind of stormwater management system is created on the property in the future.

“We’re looking at a $47 million budget that’s basically all contractual and school department and police and fire. We don’t have that money,” he said.

According to Town Council President John Beauregard, the council has not yet made a decision on the matter. Any question of spending money, he said, would have to be looked into by the council.

“That would still put us into $50,000. That’s a lot of money. It’s definitely something that we would look at. It’s really a useless piece of property when you think about it,” he said.

Mongeon said he would be willing to forego the town’s contribution and just accept the $150,000 from the state, but it’s unclear whether the terms of the program would allow that. According to his attorney, Joseph Lamagna, that’s one of several issues they’re still investigating.

“Until we get to the point where the town is in, then we’re kind of like in limbo,” Lamagna said.

Mongeon is also currently in discussions with the town on a separate legal issue, his use of a property on Victory Highway to store trucks and other materials for his business, North Smithfield Tree Service. He told The Breeze he thinks his problems with the town on that front have affected their willingness to work with him on the flooding, but Beauregard denied there was any connection between the two issues.

“That’s absolutely not true. In fact, I’m very pleased that he’s making an effort to clean up (the Victory Highway) property. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no issue at all,” Beauregard said.

Lamagna said he’s waiting for a formal recommendation from the town’s legal counsel on whether they would be interested in participating in the program before approaching the town again.