Irene: Town Engineer Janice Plaziak Talks Shoreline Damage

One year after Irene, Plaziak tells readers about repairing significant infrastructure damage and the coming changes to the FEMA flood plain maps.

When it comes to dealing with repairing roads, seawalls and more, always steps up to the plate. The town was lucky to have her during  and in the days, weeks and months following the storm. Find out how she rebuilt 700 feet of a major roadway, participated in and dealt with the demands of repairing miles of public and private coast post Irene.

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Want to see our coverage? Check out the stories below .

Branford Patch: Could you estimate the amount of hours you’ve put in working on issues related to Irene? 
Janice Plaziak: That is hard to quantify; I am still working on Flood Hazard permits for properties that are repairing from damage from the storm.  The week of the storm I put it at least 45 hours dedicated entirely to the storm.  Oversight of the repairs on Linden Avenue I estimated at 52 hours, which may have been conservative.  I have spent many hours talking with people about permits for house repairs, seawall repairs, water access, etc..

Branford Patch: Was Irene the biggest weather-related disturbance you’ve seen in your career as a town engineer?  
Janice Plaziak: Yes, my second largest weather related disturbance was a two-day blizzard in winter 2003/2004 when I was acting public works director.  Nothing like the long term affects of Irene.

Branford Patch: Do you think you were prepared for the storm? Was there anything in particular you did before it hit that made the aftermath easier to deal with?  
Janice Plaziak: Well I was surprised at the extent of damage to the shoreline in some areas as well as the flood levels.  The storm hitting at a full moon high tide was significant.  I believe the Town was prepared and handled the aftermath well.  We know where our vulnerabilities are as a coastal town and we were fortunate we did not also get the heavy rains because the flooding would have been more widespread.  The long time without power made things difficult.  I think we know now that communication is important and we have plans in place for using radios if needed. 

Branford Patch: Was the more than 700 feet of Linden Avenue destroyed by Irene’s waves ad storm surge the most damage you’ve ever seen to a roadway. What were you thinking when you first went there to assess it? 
Janice Plaziak:
I was surprised at the extent of damage to Linden Avenue from this tropical storm.  There was damage to that section of Linden Avenue during Hurricane Gloria but I don’t think it was as extensive.  My primary concern was making the area safe, which we did right away.  The repairs to the road and slope also were done rather quickly.  I am pleased with the outcome and thankful for the cooperation I received in getting the project done.

Branford Patch: You mentioned last year, as the flood plain manager of the town, the storm’s wave action made you re-think the FEMA wave action map the town currently uses. Has anything changed in that regard?  
Janice Plaziak: We are required to use the FEMA maps and they have been on the books for many years.  We recently had new maps which was really just making the old paper maps into digital maps on an aerial photo.  We will be getting new maps from FEMA in early 2013 which are a result of new engineering studies and modeling of the coast.  The draft maps are on the Town’s website for viewing and we are seeing expansion of the flood zones and wave actions zones further inland in some areas.  People who were not in the flood zone before may now find themselves in the flood zone.  If you are proposed to be added to the flood zone it is important to buy flood insurance before the maps become effective in 2013 because the flood insurance will be discounted.  If you buy the insurance after the maps become effective then you are going to be charged full rate.  I urge people who think they are near a flood zone to check the draft maps now.   

Branford Patch: When the Native American bones were discovered under Linden Avenue where the road washed away, was that the first time anything like that happened to you? How do you handle curve balls like that? Did it set you back significantly or did it have no affect on the road repair?  
Janice Plaziak:
That was certainly a surprise but the Town, the contractor and the state handled it well.  The State Historic Preservation Office was contacted and they worked expeditiously with us to preserve the area and return the bones properly to the earth.  The contractor, Blakeslee Arpaia Chapman worked around it for a short time.   I was honored to be involved in the Native American smudging ceremony to return the bones to the earth.  I don’t think I’ll have that opportunity again any time soon.

Branford Patch: Since Irene, there have been many coastal neighborhoods that had to re-build and with that has come much debate over right-of-ways to beach access and re-building of seawalls. Have you found this to be challenging? If so, is there something you’d suggest be done to make instances like this easier to manage in the future?  
Janice Plaziak:
Yes, this is challenging.  Unfortunately, the people with seawall damage in many cases experienced great expenses with no way to recover those costs.  The coastline changed in many areas due to the storm damage and due to the rebuilding.  Access to the water has always been an issue since so much of the coastline is privately owned.  It is important to maintain public access to the water and know where these access points exist but in the aftermath of the storm there was a safety factor that also needed to be considered in some areas due to the damage.  Unfortunately, we do have some areas where public access to the water is not clear.  This typically ends up being an issue for the lawyers to resolve.   

Branford Patch: What’s the one major thing you learned from Irene?
Janice Plaziak:
It is important that we all work together in times of disaster. 

Branford Patch: What’s the thing your most proud of that you and your department were able to handle during or after the storm?  
Janice Plaziak:
I am pleased with the results of the rebuilding on Linden Avenue and with working with people on their house repairs. 


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