Drywells, flooded street: Mountain View residents seek solutions

By Karen Zuppinger

When Suzanne Waldren-Munukka and her husband David bought their home eight years ago in Chester’s Mountain View community, they noticed  the roadside drain at the corner of Mountain View and Cross roads, right next to their corner home. They thought nothing of it.

Suzanne Munukka stands in the sunken drain at the the corner of Cross and Mountain View roads, next to her home early last spring. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Suzanne Munukka stands in the sunken drain at the the corner of Cross and Mountain View roads, next to her home early last spring. Click photo to launch gallery. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

After all, the home has town water and sewer, so a storm sewer drain in the paved road didn’t seem unusual.

What they didn’t know is that these storm drains aren’t the fully integrated municipal systems with large pipes that drain untreated storm water into rivers or streams. Instead, they are drywells that function more like catch basins.

Drywells are passive water runoff management systems that consist of underground structures that dispose of unwanted water by dispersing it into the soil where it then merges with ground water. The wells are effective so long as they release water as quickly as they take it in, but when this becomes unbalanced, it results in the back-up of water and debris that the residents on Mountain View have been experiencing at alarming rates since Tropical Storm Irene hit just over two years ago.

Jake Arace, whose house fronts on Route 103 S at Mountain View and also has a drain/drywell on the roadway near his home, is a veteran of such occurrences.

At a Select Board hearing  last February, Arace once again complained to the five members. “Water runs down Mountain View through my garage … water gets frozen in the garage and the floor cracks,” he told the Select Board, adding that water also soaks his side and front yard. “It’s killing me,” he repeated.

Arace said he thinks the problem was likely caused by Tropical Storm Irene, when water from the Middle Branch of the Williams River overflowed the banks at River Street and rushed down Route 103 S. He believes the flooding sunk some of the yards along 103, causing new water to veer onto Mountain View.

“It’s like a river when it rains,” he says, adding that the previous owner of his home, his mother-in law, says that she didn’t have those problems during the five years before he and his wife bought it. Now, whenever it rains, water pours down Route 103 S, right onto Mountain View Road. At the same time, water also pours down Cross Road, which dead-ends at Mountain View, causing problems at the Waldren-Munukka home and the yard and home across the way. The effects are clear. While the macadam of every other street in the community is fairly smooth, that part of Mountain View is noticeably rough.

Sunken drain, filled drywell

When the Munukkas moved into their corner house, the street drain was level with the road. Now it has sunken about a foot and easily fills with dirt. The drains on Arace’s side of the street aren’t sunken, but they too are filled with silt. During the spring and fall, Munukka says, they would get standing water in their basement. Then a friend cleared the sump pump in their basement and there was no problem afterward – until Irene.

There was “a river coming through (the house) across the street,” Suzanne Waldren-Munukka says. “They had 4 feet of water in their basement. … We had about a foot.” Fortunately, a generator kept the sump pump going during the power outage.

But for three months following Irene, Munukka says, “the sump pump ran constantly, day and night.”

In these photos shot by Jake Arace last winter, melting snow and rain flood Mountain View Road. On the left is the view from Route 103; on the right is looking at Route 103, which begins at the stop sign.

In these photos shot by Jake Arace last winter, melting snow and rain flood Mountain View Road. On the left is the view from Route 103. The Araces live on the left, the Waldren-Munukkas down the road on the right. The right side photo was taken looking at Route 103, which begins at the stop sign.

Munukka agrees with Arace that before Irene, rain runoff did not flow from Route 103 into Mountain View the way it does now.

David Munukka says that he started running a hose from his basement out into the street to drain off the water. He was then told by the town that he couldn’t do that. Munukka now takes his hose and feeds it down into the town drain at the corner. “It took some maneuvering at first,” Munukka says, “but I final got it to work. Now it works pretty well.”

The Munukkas say they also tried surepacking their driveway in hopes of creating a slope, but after a few heavy rains their efforts were washed away and they now say “it’s worse than ever.”

No side-yard vegetable garden

Arace points to the side yard, where he and his wife had hoped to put a vegetable garden this past spring. Because of the flooding, “we can’t use the dirt … contamination.” Also, every time it rains, he added, the ground gets saturated. He points to an adjacent drain, “This takes only an hour to fill up during a rain” before it begins overflowing, then running everywhere, including behind his garage. In his basement, he says the water comes through the foundation wall.

Jake Arace stands above the drain that leads to the dry well below. His home is to the left.

Jake Arace stands above the drain that leads to the dry well below. His home is to the left.

According to Arace the town has promised to come over and vacuum out the drain next to his home. “So far nothing has happened,” he says in late September.

Select board member and planning commission chair Tom Bock has called it a “neighborhood engineering problem.” The neighborhood was built prior to flood plain zoning, according to Bock. And the ground water rises, he adds. “That whole area has never been good.” Bock says he remembers when the town put the drywells in in the late ’70s and early ’80s hoping they would work. “Think of them as a septic tank under the ground. It’s concrete and reinforced, laid just under the road, about 3-feet thick below the front line,” said Bock.

At the June 26 Select Board meeting, the board voted against applying for a Hazard Mitigation Grant that would have covered 75 percent of estimated $385,000 cost of replacing the drywells with a storm water system, but approved applying for the Community Development Block Grant to cover 100 percent of the cost.

However, Julie Hance, assistant to the town manager, warned that the block grant is far more restrictive than the Hazard Mitigation Grant and, to get approval, they must show a direct correlation between Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding on Mountain View. Hance said on Wednesday, Oct. 23, that the state has not yet opened up the grant application process. Town manager David Pisha couldn’t be reached for comment on the situation.

At the June 26 Select Board meeting, the board voted against applying for a Hazard Mitigation Grant that would have covered 75 percent of estimated $385,000 cost of replacing the drywells with a storm water system, but approved applying for the Community Development Block Grant to cover 100 percent of the cost.

David Munukka has found a workaround to deal with the flooding basement. Photo by Karen Zuppinger.

David Munukka has found a workaround to deal with the flooding basement. Photo by Karen Zuppinger.

Arace says that he’s aware of the grant process but wonder’s how long it will take and where exactly the town plans to send the water. Arace points in the direction of Jack’s Diner where construction has resumed, and says that there used to be a ditch behind a stone wall that would help with some of the run-off. But during construction a few years back the ditch was covered up, adding to the problem.

Town road foreman Graham Kennedy agrees. Speaking by phone in early October, Kennedy confirmed that the drainage ditch has been covered over by the parking lot serving Jack’s Diner. When asked if the diner had been given permission to build over the ditch, Kennedy responds “not that I know of.”

Kennedy added that he is not aware of any prior agreement to vacuum out the Mountain View development drywells. “We go around about twice a year and shovel out any debris that’s collected. But that’s about it,” Kennedy says.

Arace says that the rain run-off that had once been diverted to the now-covered up ditch was then carried by an underground culvert and dumped into the river behind the field north of Route 103, where the American Legion now stands.

Until a remedy is found, Arace said he will continue to go before the Select Board about the problems.

The Araces' driveway during the snow melt and rain last winter. This water run into their garage.

The Araces’ driveway during the snow melt and rain last winter. This water run into their garage.

In the meantime, Arace has been busy digging trenches and building make-shift levies around his home. The trench between his house and his next door neighbor’s is about 2 feet deep and leads to his back yard toward the parking lot of Jack’s Diner.

In an attempt to divert as much water as possible from flooding their property, two large wooden beams block the entrance to the Arace’s small one car garage and another row of beams line the driveway leading up the backyard.

But Arace’s work is far from done. He still has a stack of beams that he plans on using to further fortify the barrier around his home. “The winters are worse than the rain,” he says. “When the snow starts to melt things get really crazy.”

This past winter, Arace tried to have some fun with all the water coming into his front yard. First he created an ice rink from the standing water. Next, for the Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest, he created a huge and colorful figure of Nemo, the cartoon fish, as a humorous editorial jab at the town. He won first place.

Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

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About the Author: Karen Zuppinger in a freelance writer and Chester resident. Her work has appeared in Vermont Magazine and Assisi's Online Journal of Arts and Letters. She is a winner of America's Best Short Fiction Award.

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