Flooding threatens city

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Photo by Jane Long.

New Haven’s snowy winter has caused school cancellations, falling ice and a roof leak in University President Richard Levin’s house. But the Elm City may soon experience a new sort of snow-related ill: citywide flooding.

In total, New Haven has seen approximately 50 inches of snow and three freezing rain storms since students returned in January. While piled snowbanks make crossing roads difficult for pedestrians, they also block the natural flow of water down storm drains, Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said. When warmer weather hits and the city begins to thaw, this undrained water will freeze overnight which could present dangers for New Haven residents, New Haven Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said.

“We’ll … keep an eye as temperatures get back down in overnight hours,” he said. “We will be putting down material as needed to make sure icing doesn’t become a problem.”

Smuts said he is not anticipating too much change in snow buildup this week because of forecasts below freezing, but he added that the city is prepared for melting this weekend and next week as New Haven begins to warm. Joy Ford, a planner for the City Plan Department, said New Haven is well-prepared for the inundation of melted snow.

“I think we have a pretty good accommodation for storm water, better than we did in the past,” she said. “It’s being improved as we speak.”

Ford said that the city is currently dividing its sewer systems between storm water and waste, which will allow for more efficient management of the melted snow.

Additionally, the city has worked on repairing and implanting several catch basins, which trap debris from entering the sewage system, Smuts said.

But despite these preparations, he added, municipal services plans to continue readying New Haven for the eventuality of melted snow.

This preparation includes removing snow from particularly important streets, New Haven Police Department Spokesman Joseph Avery said. Plowing is the Department of Public Works’ responsibility, he added, but the NHPD has provided them with officers to help on the streets.

In addition to clearing traffic for plows, officers also ticket illegally stopped vehicles while parking bans are in effect, Avery said.

These bans were put in place after the Jan. 11-12 storm, which left more than 19 inches of snow in its wake. Smuts said the city submitted the requisite information to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief funds.

Meanwhile, Yale is continuing to clear all sidewalks and walkways on University property, Lindner said. And in preparation for floods of biblical proportion, she added that Yale might get creative with its solutions.

“If frogs or locusts are involved, we may have to call in reinforcements from the Divinity School,” she said.

Smuts said the FEMA reimbursement could cover up to 75 percent of the costs for that storm.

“That would be really nice,” he said. “We’ll pursue that aggressively.”

According to WHYY, 10 inches of snow at 32 degrees Fahrenheit will melt to about one inch of rain. Many snow banks in the downtown area exceed three feet.

Alison Griswold, Alon Harish and Drew Henderson contributed reporting.

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