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CT rain washes away some Hartford flood relief progress

North Hartford resident Nikeda Parkes peers into the shed behind her home, where she keeps her lawnmower.
Shahrzad Rasekh
CT Mirror
North Hartford resident Nikeda Parkes peers into the shed behind her home, where she keeps her lawnmower. 

Nikeda Parkes’ house in Hartford’s North End floods routinely in heavy weather.

But Parkes received $41,000 through a program designed to provide flooding relief to Hartford residents, and just last week, a contractor put down a layer of sand and topsoil to level off her backyard.

Monday’s rains washed it all away.

“My house is literally like it’s on an island … What’s going to happen now? They’ll have to redo it, but am I going to have to apply again or not fix something else now?” Parkes said.

Unanticipated situations like Parkes’ haven’t been uncommon as the $5 million Hartford Flood Compensation pilot program has gotten underway, officials said. The state has already distributed more than $750,000 to residents of Hartford’s North End, but some people are already seeking changes to the program.

The program is designed to provide direct flood relief to North End residents. It was a piece of the $170 million project that Gov. Ned Lamont, federal and state officials announced last summer to deal with systemic flooding issues in the city’s North End.

Residents started applying for funding as of Sept. 1, after Lamont appointed Gary Rhule to be the administrator of the fund, along with State Comptroller Sean Scanlon’s office.

Parkes has been approved to get a new driveway and to fix some of the floors in her home that suffered water damage when flooding has occurred.

Scanlon said Monday that “the beauty of this program is that we were essentially given a blank canvas by the legislature and asked to design something that’s pretty unprecedented.”

“We are learning as we go what the most challenging aspects of this flooding problem are. And so while there is money in the pipeline, that we announced at Nikeda’s house, ironically, to fix the underlying problem, those fixes don’t happen overnight,” Scanlon said.

“So for homeowners that have been awarded a grant but then also experienced subsequent damage, we are going to recommend that they do apply a second time and we’ll sort of put them at the back of the queue to just to make sure that we’re getting through round one, everybody for the first time, but certainly happy to consider other applicants for damage.”

Water from the flooding on December 18, 2023 surrounded Nikeda Parkes’ North Hartford home on all sides.
Shahrzad Rasekh
CT Mirror
Water from the flooding on December 18, 2023 surrounded Nikeda Parkes’ North Hartford home on all sides. 

The fund started with $5 million, but state legislators have promised that more funding will be provided for the pilot program if needed.

Of the 327 applications Rhule reviewed since he was appointed to administer the fund, 267 have been ruled eligible to receive funding from the state program, records show.

Once an application gets initial approval, the resident must make an appointment with one of the three companies hired to review the applications and place a monetary value on them before sending it back to Rhule for final approval.

Csejka said that 43 of the 67 residents whose final applications have been approved by Rhule have been paid.

Scanlon said that his office has gotten the program off the ground faster than required by state legislators, who set a Jan. 1 start date.

“So I heard, from the second that I started working on this issue, that people needed help now. And we’ve done everything we could to get that help out to as many people as quickly as possible,” Scanlon said.

But some residents and North End activists are already seeking changes to the program. They sent a letter to Speaker of the House Matt Ritter with a list of changes, including adding more money and changing the eligibility requirements, which now exclude anyone who is not a Hartford resident.

“Connecticut public officials have repeatedly stated that the HFC program was for everyone in the community who experienced harm by flooding or sewage overflows. Unfortunately, many Hartford residents and business owners could be left out of the program unless significant changes are made to the legislation,” the letter said.

Among the changes they seek: Open the fund to business owners, particularly along Albany Avenue, who live out of town. Even though they are Hartford taxpayers, they are not eligible for the current program because they aren’t city residents.

Another recommendation is to mirror the program to one the state set up years ago to assist residents in Eastern Connecticut who had crumbling foundations. Currently, residents who receive the HFC funds are required to pay taxes on it.

“Structuring the program like the Crumbling Foundations program that was set up by the Connecticut legislature in 2017 would resolve this concern. The Crumbling Foundations program sends programmatic funds directly to the contractor, which would avoid the tax liability issues that currently exist with the current structure of the HFC program,” the letter said.

Scanlon said he has heard the concern about business owners not being eligible, and he has encouraged them to apply for funding.

“This process sort of serves as almost like a needs assessment, right? Nobody really knew how large of a problem this truly was, and we were never really going to know until we began taking applications,” Scanlon said. “So we’ve gotten 327 applications in about a three-month period, and some of them have come from businesses that are not eligible as of today. But we wanted to see what’s the scope of that problem was, and that can be changed.”

Scanlon said there are always tweaks that can be made to a new program.

“We are getting substantial relief to people who’ve been waiting for it for a long time, and so the feedback that I get is of immense elation that somebody’s finally cared about a problem that they’ve been feeling ignored on for a very long time,” Scanlon said.

Water from the flooding on December 18, 2023 surrounded Nikeda Parkes’ North Hartford home on all sides.
Shahrzad Rasekh
CT Mirror
Water from the flooding on December 18, 2023 surrounded Nikeda Parkes’ North Hartford home on all sides. 

For Alice Nance, the flooding and raw sewage backing up into her basement has caused immense problems in her Cornwall Street home for as long as she can remember.

Nance said she has lost all of her furniture and a washer and dryer, and her furnace no longer works properly because of flooding and raw sewage backing up into her basement.

She has submitted her application but is still waiting.

“I need to fix the sink holes in my yard and have a pipe installed to drain the water off my property,” Nance said, adding that a friend installed a hose to help with the drainage from the basement, but with storms like the one over the weekend, it’s not enough.

“I’m trying to get this money and get the work done and get it done before it gets too bad,” Nance said.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.