March 16, 2010

Rising up against the rising waters


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Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer: A home at 26 Intervale Road in Kennebunk is elevated on June 6, 2008. The neighborhood has dealt with two major floods in less than a year and the town is raising a few homes and demolishing three.

Tim Greenway

Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Residents in the flood-prone Intervale neighborhood finally see an end to the two-year-long nightmare that began in May 2006, when the nearby Mousam River flooded its banks and damaged some homes beyond repair.

It's been a worrisome time for neighbors affected by the flooding, first in 2006 and then again in April 2007.

Two families had to abandon their homes after the first round of flooding, and several others were displaced for months. In April 2007, the neighborhood was hit to an even greater extent.

Last week, the town started elevating homes in the neighborhood above the high-water mark. It's a project funded with a $1.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and matching funds from the town.

Eight families in the neighborhood will have their homes elevated above the flood plain over the next few months, and three accepted buyouts from the town. One of those homes has been demolished, and two others will be taken down at the end of this month.

The vacant properties will be used for a public park and boat launch.

''We're all hoping that this will work,'' said Andrea Ettinger, one of the eight homeowners whose house will be elevated. ''We're going on three years now -- I need this to come to a close.''

The neighborhood, which sits just north of the Mousam River, had never suffered major flooding before 2006.

Intervale resident Lori Lessard will have her home elevated, starting this week. The entire process takes about five to six weeks, and Lessard said she made arrangements to rent a home down the street.

She and her four children will move this week, Lessard said. Like Ettinger, Lessard is hoping the elevation will finally give her family some peace of mind the next time it rains heavily.

''The flooding part is so stressful,'' she said. ''I think it's going to take awhile to not worry at all. But I don't believe it's going to be as dramatic for people -- losing their homes and their items.''

Two years ago, two families had to abandon their homes. Both accepted the buyouts this spring. Another couple -- who used to live across the street from Lessard -- were flooded out after the 2007 storm. They also accepted a buyout.

The small neighborhood, consisting of many longtime homeowners, came together after the 2006 flooding. Mary Foster lives across the street from the home that used to belong to the Chin family, one of the families who left the neighborhood after the May 2006 flooding. Foster escaped major flooding during both events but said the ordeal was tough on the neighborhood as a whole.

''It was devastating for them and heartbreaking for us to see their pain,'' Foster said.

Foster's home will be elevated in early July. She and other neighbors are also investing much of their own money in repairs not covered by the FEMA grant. It's worth the investment, though, in order to have some control over property damage resulting from the uncontrollable flooding in recent years, Foster said.

FEMA officials canvassed the neighborhood last summer and were given the nickname ''the doom and gloom team,'' Foster said, as they informed residents that the flooding over time would likely only get worse as land near the river continued to be developed.

Since the 2007 flooding, however, dam owners along the Mousam River have worked to improve coordination, working with the York County Emergency Management Agency and Kennebunk.

Also, the agency applied for a FEMA grant to install a gauge in the Mousam River in Kennebunk that will act as an early warning system for flooding.

The town, said Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, has invested a lot of time into the neighborhood since the Patriots Day storm, and he's confident the work will pay off.

''I don't think those homes will ever be flooded again,'' he said. ''Street flooding is going to happen, but we can handle that.''

All of the improvements offer some hope to residents like Ettinger, who in 2006 had to gut the first floor of her house, replace kitchen cabinets and tear out and replace 2 feet of drywall around the interior of her home.

''I'd like to think that we'll never flood again,'' she said. ''But it's always there in the back of your mind.''

Staff Writer Anne Gleason can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:

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