Quinnville residents: Whipple-Cullen flooding caused huge damage

Quinnville residents: Whipple-Cullen flooding caused huge damage

Stormwater filled Zach Fenner’s backyard in Quinnville earlier this month.

LINCOLN – John Zachary Fenner said his father often made the offhand comment that if the Whipple-Cullen farmland was ever developed, their property downhill would be damaged.

“He was right,” Fenner told the Lincoln Town Council last week, stating that his land has been “inundated with a torrential flood of stormwater” since construction began on a new condominium complex uphill.

He described “rivers of sand, silt, rocks, boulders and mud,” along with construction site contents running down the hill, directly through his yard and emptying into the historic canal below. Other neighbors say they have masses of material in their yard that must now be removed with heavy equipment, in some cases several feet deep.

A discussion about the flooding was added to the Town Council agenda on July 20.

Addressing the council, Quinnville resident James Seymore said, “Unless you’ve been down there to see what we’ve been dealing with, you really have no idea. It’s a lot more than just some water traveling down this hill. You’re looking at a full-blown river.”

He said he’s cognizant of the fact that, living at Quinnville’s lowest point, he’ll sometimes have water.

“I can tell you in 38 years that we’ve been living in that house, we’ve never seen anything like this, ever,” he said.

The first flood came in January, when a small rainstorm caused water to flow into his property from the development up the hill. Along with it came soil, sediment and other material, which Seymore called “a direct result of the land being clear-cut up there.”

There have been several flooding incidents since.

Seymore said he’s spoken to the developer a few times, and that Ken Bock indicated the problem was “unfixable.”

“I can tell you if you take a walk up the hill, the amount of erosion coming through that property is beyond significant. The only way this will be completely stopped is if he’s held to high standards,” Seymore added. “We can ill afford to have this keep going on every time it rains.”

Until the problem is fixed, the newest feature on Seymore’s property is a mass of debris that piles higher with each rainstorm. He said it will need to be cleared with heavy equipment.

Fenner, who is Seymore’s neighbor, said his yard now has “eight inches of sand, sticks and leaves to clean. Our backyard is now a swampy, gushy, disgusting mess.”

Fenner said he warned the Planning Board last summer that the developer’s drawings inaccurately placed an existing stream that runs down the hillside. The developer, at that time, indicated there would be no negative impact or increased flow to the area.

The current disaster, he said, could have been avoided “had the Planning Board not been so dismissive of our concerns.”

Town Councilor TJ Russo said the Planning Board was “very diligent” in its review of the Whipple-Cullen development, and that the board ultimately rejected the project.

The state reversed that denial, he said, noting that the idea of affordable housing is “a good thing in many respects,” but that the pressure for more affordable housing “also allows developers to put things in places where they really shouldn’t be.”

What happens next?

Town Solicitor Tony DeSisto said with the “significant weather” experienced over the past few weeks, the erosion controls put in place for the Whipple Cullen development failed. As a result, a large amount of water spilled into neighboring properties down the hill and into the Blackstone Canal.

Bock told The Breeze last week that the property’s initial erosion and stormwater control plan was designed to withstand between two and three inches of rainfall, but that the recent rainfall “was just too much for any design to handle.”

Bock said the problem was “impossible to anticipate,” but promised solutions moving forward. He said he has submitted additional protection measures to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management this week, and that they’re in the process of fortifying the erosion control methods already in place.

Though the DEM has jurisdiction in the matter, DeSisto said he believes the town does as well. Lincoln officials have already become involved, and DeSisto said there will be violations from the state and town.

John Marsland, president of the Blackstone Valley Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone said they also filed a complaint with the DEM.

“We’re concerned about the restoration of the stream and damage done to the canal, which is of national significance,” he said.

Additional controls will need to be implemented “to prevent this type of breach, even if there’s the type of weather we’ve had recently,” DeSisto said. He’ll be following up on the matter to ensure compliance, and if the developer fails to act, it could be sent to court due to the nature of the breach.

Town Council President Keith Macksoud asked what happens to the properties that have already been damaged.

“They’re going to have to be repaired and restored to their original condition,” DeSisto said. “... and the developer is going to have to do that.”

Town Engineer Leslie Quish said she has visited the site with DEM representatives and other experts to assess the damage and what needs to be done to prevent future breaches.

“We’re working on it. We’re working with the developer. My goal is to make everybody whole again,” she said.

After the meeting, Quish joined Scott Rabideau, a third-party wetlands biologist on the site “to familiarize him with the property and retain his services to help inspect erosion controls and advise on areas to improve erosion control measures.”

Quish also met with the DEM, Bock, an erosion control specialist and Rabideau to review the impact of the breach, erosion control improvements within the construction zone, and potential remediation action for the wetlands.

The developer is willing to clean up Fenner’s property, she said.

The wetland area most impacted by the erosion control breach is located on property owned by developer Jim McKee, Quish said. “The developer needs to seek approval from McKee to do the cleanup, but nobody believes McKee will object,” she said.

Finally, she said a letter of violation was issued to the developer requiring an erosion control bond.

“Thus far, the developer has been agreeable to everything anyone has said or suggested and I am trying to keep the impacted residents (Fenner and Seymore) in the loop with the process and let them know that their voices are heard and they will be taken care of,” Quish said in an email after the meeting.

During the meeting, Councilor Bruce Ogni asked who would be liable if the problem continues after the construction is complete. DeSisto said the homeowner’s association would be responsible for the retention ponds. “To the extent that the developer was negligent,” responsibility may also lie with them.

Ogni also asked whether the flooding was an issue before construction began.

“They’ve never had this problem before. With all of the trees knocked down, this occured,” said Councilor Pamela Azar, noting that the same thing occurred on Dexter Rock Road when “land that hadn’t been disturbed since the time of the Native Americans” was built upon.

“We have to be very careful in the future about more development in this town because water’s going to find a way,” she added.

She described lawn furniture flowing down the stream in Quinnville, and children and pets unable to play in their backyards.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I just want to see some quick action to help the people most impacted by this.”

Seymore said the town engineer has been doing a tremendous job of working with them on the issue so far. The council ultimately voted to “direct town staff to proceed with enforcement and remediation.”

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