Hurricanes have been a big topic of discussion since Hurricane Florence ripped through the Carolinas.
Hurricanes are uncommon in Keene but flooding is something that happens more frequently. Keene also faced a major hurricane in 1938, in which the wind and rain were so bad it destroyed several buildings and thousands of trees according to an article from the Keene Sentinel.
Bud Winsor, Assistant Director of Keene State’s Physical Plant/Grounds said, “We’ve had water on campus and water in parking lots.
The Winchester parking lot and the athletic fields are prone to flooding.
It’s by design. Those areas are set up as compensatory storage areas for stormwater overflows, and they acutely work— although it is really inconvenient. When we do have flooding, people have to move their cars and sometimes athletic schedules are thrown into disarray. We’ve never had a building itself destroyed by a flooding event though.”
“Keene is prone to flooding. It is in a kind of bowl surrounded by mountains, but the main cause is probably man-made. The worst flood I’ve seen here was in 2005, where it rained six or seven inches overnight,” Winsor said.
He pointed out that since most of the buildings and parking lots are stone or asphalt, they shed water and do not absorb it. So when there is a big storm, all that water flows off the buildings, streets, and from the parking lots into the Ashuelot River. The river just cannot absorb the volume of water and overflows or floods.
Winsor said that development is a contributing factor for flooding. He said, “With the development of farmland and buildings, Keene has lost the filters that absorb water into the ground. The water flows off the hard stone surfaces, accumulates into storm drains, is dumped into the river, and causes flooding.”
Winsor said that flooding can also happen in the winter: “Ice dams happen in the river and it gets backed up and floods. We had this happen in January and February. People don’t realize that this is a real issue. Flooding in the winter is very treacherous because if it’s not taken care of, that water becomes ice.”
The flood itself causes a lot of damage, but it is only the start of the problem. There are many other kinds of damages that can follow.
Dan Della-Giustina, Corporate Safety Director at Consigli Construction Co., Inc stated that if there is drywall in a building, mold can be a huge problem and health concern.
The water can also rot out a building. Della-Giustina pointed out that insect and vermin infestations are also prominent and can make the flooded area unsanitary and unsafe.
Della-Giustina cautioned, “Flooding will cause the wires in a building to go bad or short circuit and cause a fire. Believe it or not, floods can and do cause fires.”
David Pesantes, a sophomore safety major at Keene State, raised several concerns such as compensation for property damages in the dorms, damage to vehicles due to flooding or ice damage, as well as where would the college want the vehicles moved to, is there an evacuation plan defined and who would manage the evacuation. Pesantes also wondered what role campus security would play in managing such an event.
Flooding can be avoided in many situations. Winsor said that the City of Keene is taking such steps. “Just recently the City of Keene completed drainage work and cleaned out a lot of drain pipes. The city plans to reroute some of the drain pipes from Ralston Street near the campus to Beaver Brook. This will help the water flow quicker downstream. Also, we are using new porous materials to build parking lots. The Alumni Center lot has a porous pavement. This material drains the water straight down into the ground. There is no runoff into the river.” said Winsor. He also stated that this technology would be the future way to prevent a lot of city flooding, as it is a great alternative to storm drains, which are not sustainable.
Austin Cook can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org