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Heavy rain costly for city street

NORTHAMPTON — Church Street resident Karen Bellavance-Grace is about to buy the fourth furnace her home has needed since she moved in 18 years ago.

The reason is a river of stormwater that moved through her neighborhood as a result of Friday’s heavy rains, flooding her basement and submerging the furnace.

”We had more than 5 feet in the basement,” said Bellavance-Grace said Sunday from her back yard Sunday, where the patio and garden still bore the muddy imprint of the floodwater.

“When the Fire Department came to pump me and my neighbor out, they were shooting water onto the basketball court” in nearby Agnes Fox Park, she added. “They were pumping out 700 gallons a minute.! We were here until about 12:30 a.m.”

Northampton received 2.81 inches of rain between about 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm caused flooding in other parts of the city, including on Elm, Jackson, South and King sStreets, Riverside Drive and at the VA Medical Center in Leeds.

The Northampton Fire Department logged reports of flooded basements in homes on Warner Street, Denise Court, Marian Street, Franklin Street, Jackson Street and Church sStreets and Denise Court,, according to Deputy Fire Chief David Gagne.

Police also responded to vehicles stranded in deep water at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Elm Street, on Hooker Avenue and King and North sStreets.

Elba Heredia, who lives in a corner apartment in Hampshire Heights on Jackson Street, said Friday’s storm sent water “gushing” through a window into her basement.

“I’ve had to throw away most of my daughter’s stuffed animals,” Heredia, a single mother of three, said Sunday in her still damp basement.

She was particularly worried about her fourth-grade son Eliaz’s drum set, which was positioned just below the window and got wet despite the family’s efforts to bail out the basement with buckets during the storm.

Public Works Director Ned Huntley was not surprised that Friday’s heavy rains caused trouble for some city residents.

“Our system is just not designed for that much rain,” said Huntley, who was out of town when the storm hit. “Our stormwater system is set up to handle about 2½ 1/2 inches of rain in 24 hours, not one hour. More than that just overwhelms the entire system.”

Bellavance-Grace knows that all too well. She said her neighborhood is particularly hard hit during heavy rains because of its location.

“The water comes down from Round Hill Road and the bike path and overwhelms the catch basins,” said Bellavance-Grace, who works as director of faith formation for the Unitarian Universalist Association. “Then it comes down over State Street and whips around Church Street and down to King.”

When Friday’s rains began, she texted her partner, Steven Connor, the city’s Veterans Services dDirector, that a “river of water” was heading for the house.

“I had just stopped in at the World War II Club and I was ready to relax,” said Connor. “Then she tells me, ‘Iit’s coming in everywhere!’”

Because their home is not in a floodplain, Bellavance-Grace said flood insurance could cost as much as $1,500 annually. On the other hand, a new furnace will cost around $3,000, she said, adding, “When you do the math, the situation just doesn’t make sense.”

Mayor David J. Narkewicz — who toured Church Street Saturday, along with other areas of the city that experienced flooding — said the situation highlights the need for a new stormwater enterprise fund that residents will begin paying into July 1in the coming budget year.

“It ties into the debate we just finished about creating a stormwater utility,” he said.

The new fund calls for a four-tiered system in which homeowners will pay a flat rate of either $61, $85, $113 or $239 per year, depending on the amount of impervious surface on their property. The fund will help support stormwater and sewer improvements and the removal of the Upper Roberts Meadow Dam — among other projects.

City Council President William Dwight agreed that Friday’s storm “dramatically points out the need for the stormwater fund.”

“Northampton is like the Netherlands in some places,” said Dwight, who used social media Friday to share tweeted double chk pictures of submerged cars during Friday’s storm on his way from Williamsburg to Northampton. “We now have a fee and a fund set up that can help areas that are hard hit” like Church Street.

City Council member Maureen Carney of Ward 1 — who lives a few doors down from Bellavance-Grace and also got water in her basement Friday, though not as much as her upstreet neighbors — said she wants to see neighborhood stormwater projects become a priority for the fund.

“People can’t afford to be paying thousands of dollars each time this happens” for repairs and new appliances, Carney said. “We need a solution that will dramatically increase the capacity of the storm drains. Hopefully, that will be a little bit of relief for this neighborhood and others.”

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