Flood-Prone New Hampshire Town Looks for Ways to Mitigate Damage

By TIM CAMERATO, Valley News | November 22, 2017

Standing on his front porch last Sunday afternoon, Michael Fogarty pointed to the hills and mountains that surround Canaan Village.

From each of those high points, he said, water makes its way down to Mirror Lake Brook, Orange Brook or the Indian River, forming a natural watershed and, at times, trouble for those who live there.

“It’s a lot of water and it can only go one place, and that’s the river valley,” said Fogarty, a licensed geoscientist, during a tour of the New Hampshire village.

Fogarty, who owns the Tower House Inn, has witnessed several floods overwhelm the banks of the nearby Indian River and cover Route 4.

All of those floods varied in strength, he said, but most result in some type of damage and cause traffic delays along an important artery connecting the Upper Valley and the central part of the state.

During Tropical Storm Irene in Canaan in 2011, water covered the village green and several businesses and crested near Fogaty’s front door on Route 118. In that instance, he said, the town registered about $700,000 in property damage.

That scenario nearly was repeated about a month ago, when dozens of volunteers waded through knee-deep floodwater to stack sandbags around downtown buildings.

Flooding is such a problem in the village that Canaan officials began meeting five years ago to discuss ways to limit damage. They eventually sought the help of the Littleton, N.H.-based Headwaters Hydrology PLLC.

The firm issued a report this year that found much of the village’s problems stem from the way the embankment on Route 4 is constructed.

Because the land surrounding the Indian River is fairly steep, flood waters are often pushed into the village, especially between Canaan Village Pizza and the Route 4 bridge, the consultants found.

That was the case last month, Fogarty told group of eight people following him on Sunday. When the culvert under Route 4 becomes stressed, he said, water swells over the road and creates a strong flow near the pizzeria and post office.

Initially, the consulting firm recommended anywhere between $2.1 and $5.4 million in spending to stop the flooding using a system of culverts, spillways and relocation of a nearby road.

Fogarty took the group, which included residents and members of the nonprofit Mascoma Watershed Conservation Council, out to the sites where improvements were proposed, taking the time to point out the river’s choke points and where people could hope to see changes.

He also blamed flooding on the Route 4 bridge and its embankment, saying state officials didn’t provide enough space underneath for the water to pass.

“They didn’t get it right,” he said, adding it’s also unlikely New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation will pay to make things right.

Town officials appear to have taken the same stance. They held two public meetings this summer and narrowed down the consultants’ recommendations to the creation of several spillways along the rail trail.

The project would cost $670,000 and is a “likely candidate” for state emergency flooding mitigation funds, according to the town newsletter.

Construction of the spillways would also save 18 buildings downtown from flooding, and leave another two with basement flooding, the newsletter said. However, those plans would not address the problems at the Route 4 bridge.

Fogarty also endorsed the spillways on Sunday, saying they’ll largely prevent the level of flooding seen in the past while saving millions on other costly improvements.

“That should be more than adequate to make sure this is no longer a bottleneck that backs up,” he said, standing beside a meandering point in the river.

Residents along the walk appeared to agree.

“We’ve had flooding a number of times since we moved in back in the late ’70s,” said Alice Schori, who is also a member of the Council. “If they could do something to mitigate it, it seems like it would be worthwhile.”

Steve Thomason said he took steps to flood proof his home in Canaan Village after moving in during the 1980s.

But his neighbors didn’t and saw nearly 20 inches of water flood their basement last month, forcing them to replace a furnace and hot water heater.

“Honestly, it is an ongoing problem,” he said.

But, Thomason said, there is a valid concern for those in other parts of town who wouldn’t want to spend the money on a problem that doesn’t affect them.

“It’s hard to justify it if you don’t benefit somehow,” he said.

Town officials would like the state to contribute to whatever project goes forward, according to Canaan’s website. Currently, they’re lobbying to have improvements put on New Hampshire’s Ten Year Transportation Plan, which is currently under review.

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