EDUCATE KIDS. Keep the streets safe. Cultivate a positive image. All are important tasks of a city, yet one of the most fraught municipal jobs involves laying blacktop.
Of course, we all enjoy a newly paved street for our cars. But when skies open up, as they frequently did this summer, a network of asphalt, curbs, drains and storm sewers must corral stormwater even as it acts like an out-of-control kid bouncing on a sugar high.
Such was the behavior of the stormwater last Thursday as it rushed down a newly paved Kennard Road. I witnessed the unruly actions at the base of Matthew St. Pierre’s driveway at 163 Kennard Road.
Stormwater flowed alongside the granite curb, but as the curb angled down to the driveway, the water swept into the driveway cut as if the capital letter I were bulging into a C.
As the rain intensified, the stream bloated more. The angled sidewalk on the downstream side tried to prod the stormwater back to the road. Ever resistant and growing, the water pooled, then expanded, then rose, then fell back on itself, creating ripples of defiance.
Eventually the pool crested any restraints and streamed down St. Pierre’s driveway.
“We got 12 inches of rain last month, and there’s nothing protecting my home right now,” he said.
He had me over to vent his frustration with the city. This isn’t a story about a long-existing issue that has been ignored for decades. Rather, St. Pierre’s gripes started after the city reconstructed Kennard Road this summer.
Now, the city is locked in disagreement over what to do with St. Pierre’s driveway, which is lower than the road.
“We can’t engineer gravity,” said Tim Clougherty, the assistant director of the city’s Public Works Department.
Some perspective: Kennard Road is a North End road that links Mammoth and Smyth roads. It’s not flat, and it’s built on the side of a hill.
The houses on the north side of the street are noticeably higher than the south side, so rainwater flows from east to west along the road, and can also spill south, where St. Pierre’s house is found.
His property slopes down toward the McIntyre Ski Area.
The primary problem facing the city is the lack of drainage in the street, wrote the city’s chief highway engineer, Owen Friend-Gray, in late July in a string of emails to St. Pierre. He closed that email by asking for St. Pierre’s patience and understanding.
St. Pierre said the city should have addressed issues with drainage when it rebuilt the street in early June. His requests for engineering plans have not been fulfilled; he thinks the city never had any.
“Their idea of an engineering department is ‘we don’t know until the work is done.’ That’s working backward,” St. Pierre said.
The most glaring example of the failure: about a month after the project, the city placed sandbags at the end of St. Pierre’s driveway. By the next storm, they had ruptured, which St. Pierre showed me on his smartphone video.
He and the city are at a standstill now over his driveway situation.
St. Pierre wants the mouth of his driveway widened. Doing so would transfer the water turbulence downstream from his driveway opening. He holds a degree in architectural studies and submitted a three-dimensional model of his calculation to the city.
Under his plan, excess stormwater would spill into his front yard, a better place to settle than a non-porous driveway, he believes.
The city has rejected that suggestion, questioning whether the sidewalk modification would meet guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act and warning that St. Pierre’s plan would create its own problems.
The city’s solution is a water bar near the base of the driveway. A low-rise speed bump of sorts, the water bar would work like a dam and keep the water in the street and away from the driveway. About a half-dozen houses on St. Pierre’s side of the street have a water bar.
“If a house is lower than the road, we need something to prevent the water from getting to the house,” Clougherty said.
St. Pierre said a water bar allows water and ice to accumulate at the end of his driveway.
Also, it impedes sidewalk travel for his handicapped brother, which he said is also a problem under the ADA.
And while the city tells him to take it or leave it, officials aren’t making any promises.
“It may not work, as I noted, but that doesn’t mean that it is not an option,” Friend-Gray wrote in late July.
To make matters worse, St. Pierre said the botched work has clogged the privately owned, underground drain on his property. (The sandbags eventually ruptured, their contents getting into the drain and piping.)
He said the system has to be replaced. And he blames the city for water and moisture that now accumulate in his basement.
He wants the city to pay for the damage, and he and officials are now in a dance of demand, refusal, offer and runaround.
“I think,” St. Pierre said, “they’ve dug themselves into a hole where they don’t want to admit they’re wrong.”