Flooding Relief In Sight for Harrison Hamlet

By Jon Craig

A decade of major flooding problems came one step closer to a permanent solution Thursday when the Harrison Town Board voted to create an easement near Puritan and Pilgrim roads.

Town officials complained they have encountered delays due to one neighbor not cooperating with a plan to run a 24-inch pipe through part of his property at 4 Puritan Road. The pipe requires a 20-foot wide by 230-foot long easement through the property of Richard Smithline

Susan Benenson of 5 Pilgrim Road testified, “Literally, the water goes through our home. There have been fish swimming down our driveway. A permanent solution is quite necessary.

Hours before Thursday’s public hearing, Antoine and Rita Elojail closed on a home they bought at 4 Pilgrim Road. “We were aware of the problem, but not to this extent,’’ Mrs. Elojailsaid. “I’m afraid.”

Elojailsaid the couple has four children ages seven, five, four and two and does not want them to be placed in harm’s way. “Our kids love water, but not this much,’’ she said, sparking nervous laughter

“Rita, welcome to Harrison,’’ Supervisor Ron Belmont said.

A half dozen neighbors and two attorneys spoke during the public hearing in favor of condemning part of Smithline’s property to allow for the stormwater work to proceed.

Then Smithline got up to speak in his defense, saying town officials contacted him “in the last few weeks.” Smithline said he and his wife, Roberta, recently retained engineers to get a second-opinion on the town’s proposed drainage project. Among other issues, Smithline said he is concerned about damage to his landscape and mature trees, potentially reducing his home’s value.

“I want to make sure my property is not pillaged,” he said. Smithline said he previously asked the town for relief but public officials told him they could not get involved since his home is outside the drainage district. “I have sympathy for these people,” Smithline said, gesturing toward about 20 of his neighbors seated in the audience

Town Engineer Michael Amodeo assured Smithline and the Town Board that the new stormwater pipe would be buried underground, that the project would be networked with existing flood control systems and that town crews would work around established beech and willow trees and shrubs. Amodeo said the area’s property values would likely increase after the proposed drainage improvements.

Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini said patrol cars and emergency vehicles have had trouble reaching residents of the Pilgrim Road neighborhood during adverse weather. “This situation has to be addressed,” Marraccini told the Town Board. “It’s gone too long. We can’t get through with patrol cars.”

Two years ago, the town voted to borrow $100,000 over 15 years for work needed to expand the drainage district that included 18 homes at that time. An estimate of the cost of the proposed project was not immediately available.

Wendy Moskowitz of 11 Pilgrim Road said her husband, Dan’s, car got stuck this winter due to the flooding. The emergency room physician had to call a taxi in order to report to work at a local hospital. “It’s putting the public at risk,” she said

The Pilgrim Road Association installed pumps at a cost of $80,000 about five years ago, but they’ve had to be replaced. The pumps have been unable to keep up with the volume of water produced by major storms. In those cases, town DPW crews respond to pump water for up to 36 hours at a time so roads can be passable for fire trucks.

At one point, a four-foot wide tree fell across the home of Michael Benenson of 5 Pilgrim Road. “The problem has gotten worse and worse,’’ Benenson testified. “If an ambulance had to get through, it would not be able to. This is what we’ve been dealing with for 10 years.”

And Steven Hash of 17 Pilgrim Road, president of the Pilgrim Road Association, said, “The road is a disaster. There’s a huge, huge safety issue. Let’s address this now.”

Kevin Murray of 21 Pilgrim Road said, “By all accounts, this can be resolved in months, not years, and I think it’s about time.”

A unanimous vote of the five-member Town Board — in favor of moving ahead with the drainage project, including condemnation of part of Smithline’s property if necessary — calls for work to begin within 90 days.

In other action Thursday, the Town Board held a public hearing and approved a special exemption use permit for Morgan Stanley to install a 250-kilowatt fuel cell outside its offices at 2000 Westchester Ave., Purchase. The vote was 3-0 with two board members abstaining due to business conflicts. The Harrison Planning Board approved the project on Feb. 25.

“I commend you for the alternate source of energy,” Supervisor Belmont told representatives of Morgan Stanley and Bloom Energy.

The next town/village board meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. on April 1, no fooling.

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