Derby Washout Prompts Question: ‘Who Is Watching This Project?’

DERBY — A torrential downpour in late September sent a river of mud from a construction site cascading across Hawthorne Avenue, down a steep hill and into houses on Chatfield Street, Hawthorne Avenue, E Street, Park Avenue and Grove Street.

Nine property owners are on the record as saying their properties were damaged during the freak Sept. 25 storm — a situation made much worse, they said, because of inadequate erosion controls being used by at least one of the companies building new school athletic fields between Hawthorne Avenue and Chatfield Street.

Precisely how this happened and who’s to blame is subject to investigation by engineers hired by insurance companies.

The project manager is blaming the construction company, Turco Golf Inc., saying the contractor did not follow plans to prevent erosion, an assertion Turco Golf Inc. denies.

Now, with a flash flood watch from the National Weather Service hovering Thursday, people in the neighborhood are wondering if anyone is watching out for them.

Damage

The damage to the properties near the construction site from the September rainfall was significant, according to statements made by the neighbors at public meetings Oct. 3 and Oct. 9.

  • Property owners said a recently renovated basement was wrecked.
  • Driveways were damaged.
  • Two above-ground swimming pools were ruined.
  • A resident said the foundation of his family’s house now sports a large crack.
  • A drainage system that hadn’t clogged in 40 years was stuffed with silt, turning the backyards and woods behind houses on E Street into a waterfall. With catch basins and drainage overwhelmed, the muddy water churned up large rocks and took out fences as it headed toward Park Avenue.

Backyards and basements that had never received more than a puddle during heavy rains were under more than a foot of mud flushed from the athletic field construction site.

And there is the smell left behind after it stopped raining and the water receded.

“The smell. The smell was horrendous,” said Janine Netto, whose just-finished basement was wrecked.

Netto does not have flood insurance, so she’s been in a holding pattern since the flood waiting for various insurance companies to start looking into what happened.

Resident Edward Larsen used his cell phone to take video of the flood water pouring out of the construction site (the former Ryan Field) and down McEvoy Lane (the Derby Neck Library parking lot at Hawthorne Avenue).

Larsen’s video is posted below. It shows a fast-moving river coming directly from the construction site.

Background

The projects underway in Derby are unusual.

The City of Derby and the Derby Board of Education are replacing athletic fields near the corner of Hawthorne Avenue and Chatfield Street.

But the two projects are separate of each other.

The city, using a state grant, is building a new multi-purpose turf football field and running track next on land next to Derby Neck Library that was previously a baseball field and football field.

On the land next to the state-funded project, the Board of Education, using a large private donation, is building a new field house along with a baseball/softball field.

There are also two city committees with more than a dozen volunteers supervising the projects. One of those committees — the Derby Athletic Complex Building Committee — hired Kaestle Boos Associates (KBA) of New Britain as the project manager.

The committee also hired Turco Golf Inc., based out of Suffern, N.Y. and Pompton Lakes, N.J., as the construction contractor.

Turco is working on the football field/track project, not the field house/baseball field project next door.

How Did This Happen?

Turco Golf — specifically owner Dennis Turco — was on the hot seat Tuesday during a two-hour meeting of the Derby Athletic Complex Building Committee.

Keith McLiverty, the chairman of the committee (and also the city’s Treasurer) asked Turco what measures had been taken since Sept. 25 to deal with the obvious drainage issues.

Turco said that a berm had been built to better direct the water, among other steps.

Neighbors, though, wondered why those steps had not been taken prior to Sept. 25. Neighbors said the Sept. 25 rain was not the first time they complained about poor drainage at the site.

Also, Turco said the recent drainage work would still not be able to handle another rainfall like Sept. 25. He compared that storm to a hurricane, and said that even if he had built a wall, runoff from the site still would have been an issue.

But John Fitzgerald, who owns several properties along E Street and is a contractor himself, told the committee he had observed some of the silt fencing put up immediately after the Sept. 25.

It was obvious the steps taken were not adequate to protect neighboring properties, Fitzgerald said.

He also said that some workers should have been on site the day of the storm, since forecasters were calling for heavy rain. Someone should have been there to clean catch basins and to keep an eye on the situation.

“There’s another storm coming Thursday. Whether it’s an inch or two inches, we’d like an update to what’s being done,” Fitzgerald said.

The most pointed questions of the meeting came at the very end, from committee members Anthony DeFala and Chantal Gerckens.

DeFala asked whether Turco was given documents from KBA that included an erosion control plan for the site.

Turco said he was.

“If so, was it followed?” DeFala asked.

“Yes,” Turco replied.

“So whatever was on paper, you did it?” DeFala asked.

“100 percent,” Turco said.

DeFala than asked project manager Luke McCoy of KBA whether Turco stuck to the erosion control plan.

“No,” McCoy said.

McCoy said that during storms, Turco was supposed “to put in measures necessary to mediate the water.”

McCoy said Turco never put “temporary measures” in place to funnel water from the site and into the city’s stormwater system.

Gerkens then hinted toward a bigger question.

If Turco wasn’t doing what it was supposed to, who was keeping an eye on Turco?

“You’re saying (part the erosion control plan) wasn’t employed?” Gerckens asked McCoy.

“There was no temporary measures put in,” McCoy replied.

“And did KBA oversee ‘no temporary measures’ being put in?” Gerckens said.

“We’re not supposed to,” McCoy replied.

“Well who is?” DeFala asked. “Who is supposed to oversee this project? That’s a real concern for me. Who is watching this project for us?”

DeFala said the city hired at least two companies to manage the job.

“Who’s watching the project to make sure things like this don’t occur? Somebody should have picked up on this,” DeFala said.

At that point, Turco said an engineer from his insurance company would be looking into it.

“If I’m at fault, my insurance company will pay 100 percent,” Turco said.

Click the play button below to listen to an edited audio clip from the exchange.

Nothing was resolved at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. Insurance agents, including from the company representing the City of Derby, were scheduled to be in the city Wednesday.

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