Two mudslides near the intersection of Richardson Drive and Ashbee Lane — one in mid-April and another in late June — caused $10,000 in cleanup costs, and a Richardson Drive couple might be responsible for covering the bill.
According to files at the town’s planning office, Zoning Enforcement Officer Richard Baldelli and Wetlands Agent Beth Peyser visited the home of Cory and Jaime Neas in January and issued the new homeowners three warnings after it was discovered they had been excavating without a permit.
Baldelli reported that the Neas’ had cleared away trees and brought in truckloads of earth to fill in a section of a drainage stream that carried stormwater from the development uphill through their property at 27 Richardson Drive.
According to Baldelli’s report, the Neas had also dug a pit and diverted the water to fill a small pond on the hillside of their property, laying pipe in to funnel the water in.
The project triggered neighbors to call the town highway department, which resulted in the visit from Baldelli and Peyser.
The couple responded to Baldelli’s warning notice by putting down hay bales and silt fencing to try to contain the disturbed earth.
The plan worked until three months later on April 16 when a rainstorm dumped three inches of rain on the town in as little as three hours.
That’s when the Neas’ pond began to overfill.
The exact reason is not clear, but at some point during the storm, Baldelli said Cory Neas “breached” the pond, breaking the levee and allowing the contents of the pond to rush downhill in “an uncontrolled torrent,” Baldelli later wrote.
Water swept down the property, brushing aside a temporary system the homeowners had put in place and bringing a flood of silty water and rocks — some the size of grapefruits, according to photos in the town’s planning office — down into the street.
At the end of Richardson Drive, the stream of water hooked a right onto Ashbee Lane, where it finally slowed and came to rest near the mailbox for 74 Ashbee Lane — about a quarter mile from the Neas’ property.
After the first round of debris cleanup from the highway department, Baldelli and Peyser returned to the site the date, April 17. Peyser issued a notice of violation for activity without a permit and erosion control failure.
The violation also said the couple negatively impacted the downslope wetlands along Ashbee Lane.
“In January, I did the first site visit with Richard Baldelli, and Richard issued three different warnings,” Peyser said. “At the time there was no wetlands violation to report. I did not issue a notice of violation until there was a violation.”
When the town highway department arrived to clean up the mess in April, a streambed of rubble and silt extended down Richardson Drive and Ashbee Lane. Cleanup crews used an earthmover for some of the repairs, and placed large boulders to help prevent another flash flood.
But then another storm struck on June 28, again washing mud and silt down the road. The second event took two days for the town highway department to clean up.
At the Board of Selectmen meeting on July 25, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the town has spent about $10,000 on mitigating the issue — a bill it plans to send to the homeowners.
“The neighbor complained several times,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners. “If it were me, I’d be pulling out my hair.”
In a letter written several months before the flood — but never sent — one of the Neas’ neighbors did raise concerns that something like this could happen.
“I am not a civil engineer, but I am also concerned that many of the trees on this property (27 Richardson Dr) have been cut down,” said Richard Panish, of 5 Richardson Drive, in a Jan. 15 letter marked for the Board of Selectmen, the town highway department, and the planning and zoning office. “Since the trees are gone and there is the creation of a pond, there is not only the potential for severe erosion, but also mudslides as well.”
Panish said he did not send the letter because the town highway department informed him the town had “issued citations and warnings” for excavating without a permit.
He eventually did feel the need to send the letter three months later on April 24 — a week after the flood.
In the revised copy, Panish called the January erosion control measures a “miserable failure.”
‘Compliance not punishment’
Asked about the case by the selectmen on July 25, Baldelli said that violations typically result in an investigation by his office, with a mitigation plan developed if his office determines someone is out of compliance.
“Keeping in mind that our goal is compliance, not punishment,” he added.
Baldelli issued the Neas’ a cease and desist order the day after the April 16 flood, and Peyser issued an Inlands Wetlands notice of violation.
He also noted that the town does not regulate the cutting of trees on private property that is not wetlands.
Baldelli said that the town highway department has placed large boulders on parts of town land, in the hopes of preventing another major blowout.
Designing a solution
As of June 6, the Neas family retained an engineer, Bryan Nesteriak, from Seymour-based B&B Engineering to “design a solution to the previously excavated areas on the property.”
That plan will go before the town Inland Wetlands Board — which is made up of the nine members of the town Planning and Zoning Commission — in early September, as the board is currently on their August recess.
Nesteriak has a deadline of Aug. 30 to produce an engineering plan for the property, according to emails from Peyser on file with the town planning office.
“The land use office is continuing to cooperate with the Neas and their engineer to have a permanent stabilization plan implemented,” said Baldelli in an email to the town and the Neas’ neighbor.
“We do know that the property owner has created a water body on site without a permit, so as part of the wetlands application, the homeowner has to hire a soil scientist to measure the demarcations of the wetlands and watercourses on site,” said Peyser. “They use an auger to determine the boundary between wetlands and non wetlands soil.”
In a letter to their neighbors written the day after the flood, the Neas acknowledged that the temporary erosion controls put in place before the flood were overwhelmed by the flood, and said they were working to fix the problem “as quickly as possible.”
“We enjoy living in such a kind and family-oriented neighborhood, and hope to continue to have good relations with our neighbors as we address this matter,” they wrote.