During a press conference at the American Legion at 2121 Main Street, representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had planned to privately tour and review residents’ claims of flooding and sewage backups. However, the tour was canceled by the EPA representatives and they did not meet with residents. The EPA representatives also did not comment publicly because they were not authorized to speak publicly, especially in the presence of the press and the politicians who were also in attendance.
Hartford restaurant owner, Joan Facey, was one of several local business owners who intended to have their voices heard regarding the flooding and sewage backup issues that are negatively impacting their financial and emotional stability.
Upon taking the podium, Joan addressed the crowd and said that she was specifically speaking to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, MDC Chairman William A. DiBella, and Executive Director Scott Jellison.
Joan Facey said, “And when the flood came, the water came, and this sewer backed up, it came up the flat roof. The water [went] down, the sewer went up, and came down to the building,” Facey said. “It ruined my building. I have a restaurant sitting there [with] equipment that I cannot use. It’s $8,000 just to sanitize the place and repair just for that …” She also asked Blumenthal how she can get the $8,000 to repair and sanitize the restaurant, asking him, where is her justice.
Community Activist Bridgitte Prince said during a press conference at the American Legion at 2121 Main St. that she and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of Boston would be touring privately to review residents’ ongoing claims of flooding and sewage backups. Prince later said that the EPA reps canceled the tour and did not meet with residents.
She said that the EPA representatives were not available to comment publicly, as they were not authorized to speak to the crowd publicly, especially with the press and politicians present.
Residents and activists contacted the agency due to ongoing incidents of flooding and sewage backups in Hartford’s North End and concerns that the lack of action is tied to the location in the city. Residents said they feel unheard by some elected officials and the Metropolitan District Commission.
Prince said that, in her opinion, the city’s flooding issue is akin to a New Orleans Ninth Ward district catastrophe waiting to happen.
“You’ve got pipes, busted sewage pipes that are centuries old and it’s not being repaired. You’ve got residents that live in the North End from Blue Hills Avenue all the way down to Windsor Street, [who] have human waste flowing through their basements. They don’t know whose human waste it is, because it’s been that long since it’s been fixed,” she said.
She said that these issues are not things that the Black community should have to endure.
“You just can’t have money and fix the structures on the perimeters of the Capital city. But the only time you want to show up in this district, the only time you want to show up at this forum and be sitting at the table [is] when it’s time for votes, but you don’t do anything with this situation,” she said.
Max Kothari, the local business owner of Star Hardware at 2995 Main St, said that his business has been flooded at least four times. He said that every time he reaches out to MDC, the answer he receives is that it is too complicated for them and that the water cannot be mixed with the river, which leads to water not being able to go out.
“Our business gets completely destroyed when we get flooded. That means our neighborhood, our businesses, and more importantly, our houses get backed up with sewage and we are supposed to be OK with it. That’s just not kosher … people higher up have to find a way to get some answers. We’ve been living like this … [in] our businesses, we walk in sewage cleanup, we cannot get flood insurance [for] this,” he said.
Blumenthal thanked the residents and business owners for sharing their stories and said that anyone hearing the stories cannot help being outraged and angry about what they have lived through.
“It isn’t just one storm, one flood, or one sewer to back up. It is many, many of them. I can’t speak for the EPA. [They are] part of the executive branch. They report to President Biden. I don’t appoint the head of the EPA, we control the purse strings in the United States Congress, and as a delegation. I am sure that we will go to work to make sure that the EPA takes an interest.”
He also said that he will also make sure that the MDC, state Department of Energy, Environmental Protection, and others come together, as they need to hear and see what the residents have experienced.
“It is about justice. I don’t have a magic solution today. But I’m certainly going to continue listening. I can pledge to you that we’re gonna take back this information. At the end of the day, this is an issue of environmental justice …” he said.
Blumenthal also said that Congress recently passed the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which is more than $1 trillion for the whole country, the first of its kind that they have passed.
He said that fixing the sewage and flooding issues is the kind of endeavor that should be supported, as it involves environmental protection, public health, communities, and their fabric and strength, and ultimately, justice.
“I’m going to make sure that Hartford gets its fair share, and the North End of Hartford is taken into account,” he said.
In response to the residents’ stories, DiBella said that the MDC has spent $2 billion for the last five to 10 years on separating the sewers.
“Unfortunately, the way that it goes down is, it’s a question of the river and everything else in the environmental issue is DEEP and we have programs to deal with. It’s a dollars and cents thing. We don’t have a system in this country that’s been built for the storm … in 2021, where we got a 200-year storm, a 100-year storm, and a 50-year storm in the same week,” he said.
He said that the bottom line is that the system is only built for a 10-year storm.
DiBella said the MDC is separating the sewers in the North End and starting the process in Blue Hills.
“The big problem is we’ve got to get to an outflow, which is Park River. The city and MDC are doing a study on that. But we’re moving forward on the separation system, but it’s not a 10-year or five-year program. The integrated plan is going to run out probably almost 20 years or 25 years. We can’t spend that much money in that short of time,” he said.
DiBella also said that even if the MDC were to receive funding from the federal government, it could not be done any faster.
“No, we don’t get a lot of money. We’re not getting money from the federal government. That’s one of the issues. We’re getting money from the MDC customers and from DEEP. We’ve spent $1.7 billion of ratepayers’ money on this project and we’ve spent $800 million. So $1.7 billion from MDC’s customers and $800 million for the state. It’s significantly low,” he said.