Darien approves nearly $150K to replace trucks damaged by Elsa

Post Road was closed at Tokeneke Road at the underpass in Darien because of heavy flooding on Friday, July 9, 2021.

Post Road was closed at Tokeneke Road at the underpass in Darien because of heavy flooding on Friday, July 9, 2021.

Darien Police Department / Contributed photo

DARIEN — The finance board has approved nearly $148,000 to replace three school trucks damaged in the flooding from Elsa.

And based on the damage from Elsa and then Ida this summer, officials are expecting even more requests for reparations to follow.

“This is the first of some expenditures we’re likely to face in terms of storm damage to town and Board of Education assets,” Jon Zagrodzky, the finance board chairman, said at a recent meeting.

Officials were still gathering information on the damage from Tropical Storm Elsa, which dumped more than six inches of rain in early July, when Ida hammered Darien with nearly nine inches in half the time earlier this month, creating even more flooding problems.

The town and schools are still determining the amount of damage caused from Ida, though the insurance claim is being put together for Elsa, finance director Jennifer Charneski told the finance board.

“Elsa will not be eligible for any FEMA reimbursement,” she said. “We will only be able to go through our insurance. At this time, the estimate is about $390,000 of damage.”

She said that figure only covers town and school damage, not private property. It includes equipment, supplies and materials, overtime and debris removal.

The schools will most likely get the reimbursement from their insurance company to cover the vehicle payments the finance board approved. When the payment comes through, it will be turned over to the town to replace the money pulled from the capital reserve to cover the cost upfront for the replacement trucks, officials said.

“It is amazing, just the list of equipment, the number of things that were damaged or remediated and had to be replaced,” Zagrodzky said of the Elsa list.

Several board members asked what steps the town and schools can take to better protect their assets from future flooding, especially at the public works garage where one of the bays sits low and has flooded.

“At some point you have to ask yourself, ‘Are we supposed to park all of this stuff where it was damaged?’” Zagrodzky said.

He said the town should consider moving the vehicles or equipment when bigger storms are expected.

“That needs to be just part of the overall storm mindfulness, if you will, that’s going to be built into a much larger effort of what we need to do as a town,” he said, adding a bad weather plan falls under the purview of the selectmen and school board.

Zagrodzky said the finance board’s role is to determine how to pay for the changes and that the board would most likely make money available for needed infrastructure projects through bonding. The fact flooding and weather response is a regional issue was raised at a recent hearing and panel on flooding.

“It’s very important that whatever we pay for, that we have an eye towards making this a geographically appropriate solution, so it’s not just defined by town boundaries but defined by the geography of this flooding — what’s causing it and where it’s coming from,” he said. “And then take a look at this holistically, such that our financial contribution might actually be to support a regional solution as opposed to something that would just support Darien.”

Charneski said public works has already taken steps after its losses during Elsa, including moving vehicles to other places.

“They were trying to elevate what could be elevated,” she said. “Equipment that wasn’t on wheels, they were trying to put on trailers so that if there was a flood, they might be above it and if the flood got too high, they could just pull it out on a trailer.”

Some of the changes were already used in Ida, with the department placing items higher than where the flooding was for Elsa, she said.

“It just wasn’t enough so they had some additional damage,” Charneski said.

There is a chance the town might be able to get federal relief for the Ida damage. The state is compiling damage from towns affected by the storm to determine if it should trigger the federal aid process.

If federal aid is approved, the town’s insurance would still be the first step, with FEMA reimbursing 75 percent of the difference, officials said.