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Town's Response to Hurricane Irene Praised and Criticized at Selectmen's Meeting

Town to settle Leigh Gomez civil rights abuse case.

Two important telephone numbers that may be of use to North Haven citizens were provided at last night’s Selectmen’s meeting at the Memorial Library.

First Selectmen Michael Freda provided the number for FEMA emergency services (1-800-642-2288) that can be used by citizens with roof damage from Hurricane Irene that may not be covered by their home insurance.

Rita Pelaggi, the area director for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families regarding Child Abuse provided the organization’s hot line (1-800-642-2288) that can be used to report instances of child abuse and neglect.

Hurricane Irene and child abuse were just two of the topics covered at last night’s meeting, which also broke into executive session to negotiate a settlement for the litigation of the Leigh Gomez case. Gomez, an executive assistant to a former First Selectman, filed civil rights abuse charges against the town in 2009 after losing her job. The town initially said Gomez, who is African American, was released due to poor performance.

After the executive session ended, Freda reported a settlement had been reached but wouldn’t comment on the amount the town will pay because negations with Gomez’s lawyer are pending. He said the case should be concluded within a week.

The meeting concluded with discussion of the rebuilding of damaged buildings at the North Haven fairgrounds, which began this summer after the buildings had been demolished in the aftermath of last winter’s severe snow storms. At previous selectmen’s meetings, citizens had complained that the plan to rebuild the buildings to the
exact dimensions of the former buildings to avoid presenting site plan
applications to the Planning & Zoning Commission was a violation because the new buildings will be bigger than the original structures.

The first new building is being constructed now and is in fact eight feet larger than the original structure. In response, the town has demanded that the North Haven Fair file a site plan application with Planning & Zoning. The fair has agreed, and the matter is pending.

In the Selectmen’s overview at the beginning of the meeting, Freda reported on the town’s response to Hurricane Irene. He said the town assembled emergency operations at the police department on August 28 before the storm hit at midnight August 29. The town opened a shelter at the high school that was used by 11 senior citizens.

“It was outstanding and gave the seniors peace of mind,” Freda said.

He said floods from the hurricane were not severe but 54 roads were impassable after trees fell down. Power lines wires also came down and 7,000 homes were without power. Over 1,000 calls came in regarding power outages that were not completely restored until Labor Day.

Freda complimented the public works department for getting trees out of roadways, but Linda Zeffiro, a Hartley St. resident, said “We shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back, because better care of trees is needed to prevent future problems.”

Zeffiro spoke during the public comments period along with other citizens, some praising the town for its activities in response to Irene and others calling for a stronger response.

Victor Palma, the Department of Public Works director of field operations and the town tree warden explained a two tier problem in regards to town tree maintenance: the utilities are responsible for caring for trees with power lines and the town has no authority to maintain trees on private property.

Freda responded to Zeffiro’s comment by saying the town should take a proactive approach but after Palma said the budget for tree maintenance in $50,000 a year another resident said that was not enough.

The town contacted United Illuminating regarding power outages during Hurricane Irene and Freda said residents can call UI to report additional problems at their homes.

After the hurricane, the town opened a transfer station for debris, and over the next several weeks public works officials will pick up fallen trees and branches and carry them to the station.

The storm also impacted Show and Sell day which is scheduled for October 15. The registration period has been extended so businesses can still sign up.

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