by Sean Flynn, Newport Daily News
NEWPORT — Dudley Avenue homeowners who have property abutting Pell Elementary School were relieved to have professional engineers in their yards Thursday evening hearing about the flooding problems and seeing the effects first hand.
“We’re going to fix this,” said Dean Audet, senior vice president of the Fuss & O’Neill engineering firm that has offices throughout New England.
Audet, a civil and environmental engineer, was joined by Sara Morrison, the firm’s manager for climate adaptation, and Rob Schultz, the city’s acting director of utilities and also a civil engineer.
Dudley Avenue resident Jennifer Jackson, right, speaks with Dean Audet and Sara Morrison of the Fuss & O’Neill engineering firm about flooding problems in the area.
“It’s the first time we’ve had engineers in our yards talking about the problems and seeing what we have,” said Kate Repko, who with her husband, Jay Repko, shared their experiences and documentation.
Jennifer Jackson, another Dudley Avenue resident whose backyard abuts the southern border of the Pell School, also had the engineers over to her yard. The back of the school sits on elevated land and looks down on the property where she lives with her husband and two children.
“My yard floods anytime we have rain,” she said. “The yard remains squishy. When it gets really bad, it’s like living on a Louisiana bayou.”
The Jacksons were forced to take out their above-ground swimming pool because it was sliding and the ground underneath was shifting.
Since the construction of the Pell School in 2012-2013, other Dudley Avenue neighbors have said their backyards flood regularly after hard rains and prolonged storms.
Jay Repko showed the engineers on a topographical map where in the neighborhood pooling occurs because of dips in the land and swales.
“Ducks made this one their home,” he said, pointing to a spot in a Dudley Avenue yard.
Documentation of flooding can be correlated to weather data
The Fuss & O’Neill representatives especially were looking for photos and videos of the flooding and the dates they were taken. That way they can correlate the dates with the weather data they have for Newport at those times. They are modeling the occurrences as they search for a solution.
They lucked out with the Repkos, who have photos and videos of the flooding from the past several years, as well as the dates. Jackson also said she had photos with dates she could provide.
Fuss & O’Neill was hired by the city to address the flooding problems, which the neighbors fear could increase because construction of an eight-room addition to the school is now underway.
The neighbors believe the problems initially came about in 2012 because the topography of the school site was changed for the large school that has a capacity of up to 900 students.
They received confirmation of that belief from a letter former city Director of Utilities Julia Forgue wrote in May to Garofalo & Associates of Providence, the firm preparing a stormwater management plan for the school addition. Forgue retired at the end of July.
“While the development of Pell 1 (in 2012) reduced the overall contributing area to the southern abutters by 1.59 acres, it altered the drainage flow pattern in a southern direction,” Forgue wrote. “It is this shift of the drainage flow pattern that resulted in the reported flooding issues.”
“Drainage design should not be limited to property or town boundary lines,” she wrote.
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City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. forwarded Forgue’s letter to the City Council and wrote, “It is unlikely that the problem will be solved through the auspices of the School Department or the School Building Committee, so the issue to the extent the Council wishes to become involved falls at our doorstep.”
That led to the hiring of Fuss & O’Neill, a firm that has undertaken multiple projects for the city over the years.
In 2016, the firm studied the heavily populated area south of Bliss Road, mainly between Whitwell and Eustis avenues, that has drainage problems and recommended drainage infrastructure changes that were undertaken.
The Repkos and Jackson were the only neighbors with flooding problems who met with the engineers Thursday evening, although up to a dozen homes on the western end of Dudley Avenue and along Hillside Avenue have reported flooding problems in the past
“After so many years of fighting, people conform, comply and give up,” Jackson said.
School Committee member Jim Dring, who has a home on Dudley Avenue a couple homes east of Jackson’s home, also was at the meeting. He said he does not have the problems of his neighbors.
“Before the school was built, I had flooding,” he said.
The change in the school site’s elevation and slopes benefited him, he said.
Before Pell was built, the property was the site of the Sullivan Elementary School, a smaller neighborhood school. The Pell plan required a leveling of the area before construction could take place.
Morrison told the neighbors that Fuss & O’Neill would report back to them in either December or January with findings and recommendations.
“The clock is ticking,” Audet said.
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