Westport’s Emergency Operations Center has been activated.
An announcement on WWPT-FM 90.3 — the town’s emergency broadcaster, which will be all-storm, all-the-time throughout the weekend — says to expect only moderate snowfall: 4 to 6 inches.
That’s the good news.
The bad news: With 2 full-moon high tides, and winds gusting up to 55 miles an hour, there will be flooding on par with the 1992 nor’easter that surged through downtown. Tides are expected to be 1 foot lower than Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The high tides are expected tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m., then more significantly tomorrow night at 11. Sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph from the northeast — with those much higher gusts — will push the water very high.
Town officials urge residents to move cars now to higher ground. Saugatuck Shores residents can park at railroad station Lot 8 (by I-95 Exit 17). Compo and Old Mill residents can park at Longshore.
Officials warn all residents to secure loose objects on decks, porches and patios.
The forecast calls for snow to begin falling tomorrow morning. The storm will continue for 24 to 36 hours.
Stay safe and warm, Westport. And stay tuned to 90.3, and “06880.”
PS: Send photos!
PPS: If there’s a fire hydrant near you, don’t forget to clear snow from around it.
Hurricane Irene flooded downtown Westport, in August 2011.
The other day, alert “06880” reader Scott Smith saw a CTMirror report on Westport’s favorite topic: big houses bad drivers power outages.
The story noted that a panel studying the state’s readiness for future major storms recommended selective burying of electric wires, new utility performances standards (with penalties) — and “dramatically enhanced tree-trimming.”
As Scott says: “If you thought deer were sacred cows in Westport, just wait till the town or CL&P tries to take down someone’s favorite old tree in the name of public safety.”
Scott says a lot more, too. Here are his thoughts on trees, wind, snow, and What It All Means To Westport:
The birch tree that caught Scott Smith's attention.
Walking my dog recently on the marsh side of Sherwood Island, I came across a stately old white birch that is the biggest I’ve seen. Great shape, full canopy, marbled white trunk as thick as an old oak. Set just off by itself from a grove of other birches, it was encircled by brush, through which rose a tangle of vines that threatened to strangle it.
On my next walk, I tucked a pair of long-handled pruning shears under my coat and brought them with me to the glade. While the dog stood by with a tennis ball in his mouth and a puzzled look on his face, I worked my way around the old tree to nick the strands of wild grape and oriental bittersweet (the nasty invasive vine with bright orange roots) that vied to take it down.
I don’t know if that makes me a vandal of state property, but it sure brands me as a tree hugger.
I’m no arborist, but I have my favorites: trophy trees around town that I marvel at through the seasons. I could easily point out a dozen, even in my own neighborhood, that I consider landmarks, if not old friends, that always catch my eye.
Westport and its surrounds are studded with trees that individually, and all together, are truly one of the great things about living in these parts. It would be cool to see a townwide census of the best specimen trees of all types, to honor them, protect them, appreciate them while they last.
But no doubt about it: We have, ahem, a growing problem with trees.
A Westport scene less than 3 months ago -- right before Halloween.
As CTMirror stated, a key step in better preparedness, a statewide panel recommended, involves recognizing that past vegetation management efforts were insufficient. Fallen trees and limbs were responsible for the bulk of the outages in 2 recent storms, including 90 percent of those during Irene.
CL&P proposed last month that it increase its tree-trimming budget by 10 percent compared with its annual average over the prior decade.
According to CTMirror, the state panel did not recommend a specific increase, but called for a statewide tree risk assessment study. This would be followed by a 5-year collaborative effort among utilities, towns and the state to implement an enhanced tree-trimming program.
CTMirror says the panel also recommended that Connecticut establish a statewide Hazardous Tree Removal Fund. It would provide matching grants to residents, who would help pay to remove trees on private property that pose a risk to electric wires.
I wonder how the Town of Westport will respond to this report. I know we have a tree warden, but I’m pretty sure that’s a puny, patronage-type position. (The warden came by my house a few years ago because I was worried a rotted old maple on town-owned property alongside my driveway might fall on my car; he said he couldn’t do anything unless a tree was an “imminent danger.” The tree fell in the next nor’easter, missing my car but landing on my house.)
An unfortunately familiar scene in the windstorm of 2010.
What Westport needs is not a tree warden but a tree czar. My neighbors on the private street down the way from my house squabble endlessly about who pays for tree maintenance – homeowners or the street association? With every passing storm another towering oak falls across their road and the power lines, taking out our entire neighborhood for a week.
In a way, I don’t blame them – who knows when a time-bomb of a tree will drop? Homeowners’ insurance is sketchy at best, and I know a lot of my neighbors – the retirees, especially – don’t have the $2,000 or $5,000 lying around needed to cut down a big old tree proactively.
I like the idea of a state tree removal fund, but we need someone local with authority, someone who can see the proverbial tree from the forest and act before it’s too late. I imagine the lines of jurisdiction and responsibility and red tape – not to mention hard-core NIMBYism — will be a lot harder to cut through than the vines that swarmed around my pet birch at Sherwood.
Too bad there’s not much need for wooden masts or stout roof beams, or capacity to make homegrown furniture these days. I bet as a resource, the new old-growth forests lording over our houses, streets and power lines are every bit as valuable as the virgin stands harvested by the first settlers 3 centuries ago.
Our tree trouble isn’t going away anytime soon; it will surely get a lot worse, as our forest canopy ages and the nor’easters and hurricanes strengthen. This is the calm before the next storm.
More than any other natural disaster, trees are our earthquakes, our forest fires, our floods. I don’t want to depend on the state, the feds or, god forbid, CL&P.
So what’s our plan?
They're called "killer trees" for a reason. This scene is from the windstorm of March, 2010.
Dan Williams and his family moved to Saugatuck Shores in 1997. This year, they and their neighbors were mandated to go on a town sewer line. The hookup was done in late August — a week before Hurricane Irene hit.
That Sunday, 4 feet of water filled the streets. A bit seeped into the garage. But the house had been raised by the previous owner, so there was no damage inside.
Like the rest of Westport, the Williamses waited for power to return.
At 8:30 Tuesday night, it came back on.
Pumps throughout Saugatuck Shores roared to life at once. Tremendous pressure filled the sewer line.
A check valve — attached by a hose and clamp — is supposed to prevent outside sewage from flowing back into the tack.
Dan’s clamp failed. It ripped off the line. Sewage poured into the tank at enormous speed — and found the closest exit points. They were a pair of 1st-floor toilets, and a tub.
Sewage shot out “like a volcano,” Dan says.
And it kept coming.
“There was no way to shut it down,” Dan says. “We tried to shut the power off — nothing worked.”
The house was destroyed. Everything on the 1st floor was lost.
It finally stopped only when the 130 or so tanks in the neighborhood were empty.
Into the Williams’ house.
His “wonderful” neighbors rushed over. The used shovels, brooms, mops — anything to get the estimated 6,000 to 9,000 gallons of sewage out of there.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Dan says.
He has harsher words for the sewer line engineers.
“There should have been 2 check valves,” Dan notes. “In the planning stages, one of my neighbors was an outspoken opponent of only 1 check valve. And he’s a pump expert — that’s his job.”
A small part of the damage to the Williams' home.
The Williamses — Dan, his wife Stacy, 2 teenage girls and an 11-year-old boy — vacated their ruined home immediately. They stayed with friends for a couple of weeks. Now they’re in a rental house.
His kids are “better,” he says.
But Stacy is “an absolute mess. This was her home, her decorations. It’s all gone.”
Dan did not go to work for 3 weeks.
“No one knew what to do,” he says. “We had to figure everything out. We had to rip the house apart, start reconstruction, get a cleaning company to verify it will be okay — there was so much to do.”
His insurance company was no help. “They were inundated” after the storm, Dan says. “Getting someone here was a headache. It’s been almost impossible to talk to anyone.”
What about the town?
“What about them?” Dan counters.
Brian Thompson — the Public Works Department’s lead engineer on the project — “did a wonderful job holding my hand that night, and the day after,” Dan says.
“But he’s the only one from the town I’ve heard from.”
The pump manufacturer — E/One — has already replaced area residents’ setups with stronger hoses and clamps, Dan says.
No one from the company has contacted him. “I’m sure they’re lawyered up, waiting for me to come after them.”
Dan says that he has heard the town will put in 2nd check valves — at no cost to homeowners. However, he adds, “if you haven’t hooked up to the system yet, you have to pay for (the 2nd valve) yourself.”
“We’re coping as best we can,” Dan says. “On a good day, we can smile.”
Yet, he notes, “I still can’t wrap my head around what I need to do to go forward.
“How do I make sure my family and property will be okay? Who verifies that?
“Will my house be devalued? What if someone in my family gets sick?
His family, he says, is “heartbroken.”
Meanwhile, their home has been gutted down to studs and beams. Rebuilding could take 4 to 6 months.
Reconstruction is underway on the ruined interior.
Insurance covers their rental. But, Dan says, “they say we’re 100% covered for damage. But we don’t know. Can we just buy new furniture? Will they say our contents were depreciated?
“This is the 1st time I’ve had to deal with tearing a house apart — with deconstruction and reconstruction.”
Dan spends his days talking with insurance agents and lawyers — and trying to talk with town officials.
“There’s not a lot of help,” he says. “It’s unbelievable.”
Fall is here. Soon, trees throughout town will blaze in a spectacular show of reds, oranges and yellows.
Naturally, an alert “06880” reader wants to cut some down.
In recent storms, this is a not uncommon Westport sight.
We’ve all noticed trees around town that are destined to fall across roads at any moment. Their roots are totally exposed. They lean at 45-degree angles over the street. Dead branches dangle in the air everywhere.
In our heads, we place bets on when the tree will come down: the next rainstorm? The next snowstorm? The next sunny day?
The deaths on the Merritt Parkway recently, the school bus incident Monday and the lengthy power restoration after Irene prove that trees can be both deadly and ignored.
Can’t the town be more proactive? Isn’t there some sort of tree warden who should be on top of this? If we want to call in with reports of dangerous trees, whom do we contact? Is it a wasted effort?
Even fishermen should be wary: There’s a tree on the other side of the river from Clinton Avenue (at the base of the killer hill there) that is hanging maybe 30 degrees above the water. Any day now…
Chances are, you missed David Brooks’ column last week in the New York Times. You were probably too busy mucking out your basement — or you didn’t have lights or computers to read it with.
Too bad. Brooks described his family’s summer visit to 7 African safari camps. Some were simple, lacking electricity or running water. (Sound familiar?) Others were relatively luxurious, with showers, even pools.
A haimish-looking safari camp.
The simple camps, Brooks said, were “friendly, warm and familial.” Guests dined together at communal tables. There were impromptu soccer games, spear-throwing and archery competitions with staff members.
The more elegant camps, Brooks said, “felt colder.” Families dined at separate tables. Tents were further apart. Staff kept their distance too.
Brooks used a Yiddish word — haimish — to describe the simpler camps. The word, he said, “suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.”
The columnist devised what he called “an invisible Haimish Line” to describe American life today. Restaurants and bars can exist on either side of it.
So can hotels. “You’ll find multiple generations at a Comfort Inn breakfast area,” Brooks wrote, with people “likely to exchange pleasantries over the waffle machine.”
In a 4-star hotel, meanwhile, guests “quietly answer email on their phones.”
So too with money. “When we get some extra income,” Brooks noted, “we spend it on privacy, space and refinement.”
That has benefits, of course — “let’s not forget the nights at the Comfort Inn when we were trying to fall asleep while lacrosse teams partied in the hallways and the rooms next door,” Brooks said — but too often we fall on the wrong side of the Haimish Line.
Last week, Hurricane Irene forced all Westporters to the same side.
When disaster strikes, everyone heads to the diner.
Sherwood Diner — one of the few restaurants in town that never lost power — epitomized haimish. Lines stretched out the door — so strangers shared tables. Not all the staff made it in — so patrons cleared food and served coffee. Conversation flowed easily. Everyone had stories to tell — and hear.
We were haimish with neighbors, offering extra ice, beds and hands to clean up, even as we worried about our own homes.
We were haimish at the hardware store, providing little tips on how to cope with big problems.
We were haimish as we drove, stopping at light-less lights, waving others through the very intersections we always zoom by, even when red.
Westporters are not normally haimish. We like our private tables, our luxury safari tents. Given a choice — and we usually have one — we pick the Ritz over the Comfort Inn. Or at least the Marriott.
Last week, we didn’t have a choice. We had to be haimish.
So we were. And we lived to tell the tale.
Just a few days later, we’ve reverted to our non-haimish ways. We’re back at our own tables at the diner, and if the waitress doesn’t ask for our order quickly, we’re pissed. The traffic lights work again, which means we ignore them.
In fact, just a couple of days after Irene, we complained that the noise from our neighbors’ generators kept us up at night. That’s not very haimish, is it?
Westport will never live on the good side of the Haimish Line. It’s not in our DNA. Besides, it takes work.
But maybe — just maybe — now that we’ve seen what the other side is like, we can wander over more frequently for a visit.
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