BAR HARBOR, Maine — Bobbie Mendoza and her neighbors never would have thought about shoving a large pink mooring ball into a culvert under Route 3 that connects their backyards with part of Hamilton Pond, but they were at their wit’s end.
Flooding from pond runoff has been a problem in the village of Salisbury Cove for about five years, they said this week, but this year was worse until a mooring ball got lodged in the culvert. No one is claiming responsibility for the act for fear of getting in legal trouble, but the stoppage kept the water on the pond side of the road.
But last Wednesday, Maine Department of Transportation workers found and removed the mooring ball, releasing the water behind it and flooding Mendoza’s and her neighbors’ yards for the umpteenth time.
What’s worse than that, Mendoza said Tuesday, is that she can’t get anyone to do anything about the flooding. There is an old government-installed, underground drainage pipe in neighbor Wayne Gray’s yard, but it doesn’t seem to be working and no one will take responsibility for it. She has complained to MDOT, which has told her to consult with town officials, who in turn have told her it’s MDOT’s responsibility, she said.
So on Tuesday night, as MDOT Commissioner David Cole and state Sen. Dennis Damon met with the Town Council to talk about road projects, the Mendozas and their neighbors attended the meeting to raise their concerns.
Mendoza pleaded with them and showed them pictures of her backyard. She choked up as she explained that, if the problem isn’t fixed, she and her husband will have to abandon the house she inherited from her mother and move somewhere else.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t trying to save our home,” Mendoza said Tuesday, apparently referring to the mooring ball, her voice catching with emotion as she addressed the council. “My husband’s out there in the rain building dams trying to save our house. We can’t leave our home. We can’t sleep at night. Our pumps run all the time.”
The council, assured by town and MDOT officials that they would work together to investigate, declined Tuesday to formally instruct town employees to solve Mendoza’s problem.
Chip Reeves, Bar Harbor’s public works director, said Wednesday that he thinks the mooring ball was put in place last March. But it was only discovered last week after officials with the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory asked him and then MDOT to unclog the culvert. A driveway that skirts the pond and is used to access one of the lab’s lesser-used properties was flooded, he said.
Reeves said he cannot find any records that the town was ever was responsible for installing or maintaining the drainpipe in Gray’s backyard. Without any clear access rights to Gray’s property, he said, his hands are tied.
“I wish it was a town easement because — boom — we could go right in there and work,” Reeves said. “We can’t spend taxpayers’ money on private property without an easement.”
Pointing to a chart on his deck, Reeves said Bar Harbor averaged between about 30 and 50 inches of rain a year from 1999 through 2004. In 2005 Bar Harbor got 72 inches of rain, nearly twice the amount of the previous year, and has gotten roughly between 60 and 80 inches of rain every year since. As rainy as June has been, 2009 likely will rank among the wettest for Bar Harbor in recent history, he said.
There could be some problems with storm water runoff from surrounding development or with some sort of blockage in the backyard drainpipe, he said, but there definitely is more rain.
“All I’ve been dealing with this spring is storm water,” Reeves said. “It’s what is coming out of the sky.”
But according to Gray, rain falling onto his property is not what is flooding his backyard. It’s water MDOT is diverting from Hamilton Pond under Route 3.
“[The mooring ball] found its way in there somehow and it was a desperate measure,” Gray said Wednesday. “They just popped it and pulled it out. We had a river flowing across here again.”
Gray said his ground floor did not flood last week, but that twice in the past few years, he has torn out carpet and drywall in his daughters’ ground-floor bedrooms to repair flood damage. He has tried to improve the drainage across his property, he said, but has limited time and money to repair a drainage pipe that he says either the town or state is responsible for. Plus, he’s worried about funneling the water onto yet another neighbor’s property.
“I know the state is short on money. So is the town. So are we,” Gray said. “We’ve exhausted our resources. We’re at our wit’s end, here.”
Dale Doughty, Bangor region manager for MDOT, also attended Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting. He said Wednesday that former MDOT employees once may have helped maintain the drainage pipe in Gray’s backyard, but that the department operates by more strict standards today. Just like the town, MDOT is barred from expending taxpayer funds on private property without a legal easement, he said.
“That doesn’t preclude us from participating [in a solution] in some other way,” Doughty said. “All three groups have to be at the table.”
Both Reeves and Doughty said Wednesday that they were trying to get in touch with each other to see what might be done.