Piles of Westport storm debris swamp trash facilities
Updated 3:17 pm, Saturday, September 3, 2011
Tropical Storm Irene battered the region with heavy winds and rain, leaving in its wake yards and roadways littered with shattered trees, flooded basements and refrigerators chock full of provisions that spoiled when power outages lingered well into the week.
Some people in Westport and Fairfield as of Thursday still had no power, telephone or Internet services. For some, the prospect that power would be restored remained days away.
Piles of storm debris were piled into truck beds and car trunks and hauled to the towns' transfer stations and recycling centers, which were besieged by long lines.
Just the threat of Irene's arrival sent some people into their basements and garages to purge excess belongings to make room for storage of their cars and lawn furniture to protect them from the hurricane, which was downgraded to tropical storm status by the time it reached Connecticut.
The extra traffic and volume of dumping materials led town officials in Westport and Fairfield to extend hours at their respective transfer stations and composting facilities.
In Westport, transfer station weigh master Bud Valiante said hours there were extended as of Tuesday from the typical 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday it will be open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Leaves and brush get dumped at a separate location at 180 Bayberry Lane in Westport, where the hours have been extended on the same schedule as the transfer station.
The extended hours Tuesday was a day too late for some Westport residents who showed up after hours Monday to a locked gate. Valiante admitted there were angry people at the gate after 2:30 p.m. Monday, but said his hands were tied. "We had people at the gate who couldn't understand why they couldn't come in (after hours) but we were told not to let anyone in" after closing, he said.
Others were grateful for the extended hours, regardless of when they took effect.
Tom Feeley of Westport called the extra hours at the transfer station "a brilliant idea."
"Now I've got to come back with my recycling," he said, after he dumped "left over refrigerator items and also stuff that was covered in sand muck." Feeley said storm water made its way into the crawl space of his home near Compo Beach.
"Thank God they're still open," said Ryan Burke of Westport, who arrived at the station Tuesday about 3:30 p.m. He was spared the worst of the storm. "We got a little water in our basement," he said. And his property in general had few problems. "Nothing that a chain saw couldn't take care of," Burke said.
Valiante said the heavier volume began at Westport's station before Tropical Storm Irene made her unwanted appearance.
"Friday and Saturday before the storm was much busier because everyone was cleaning out their garages and basements to make room for their cars and lawn furniture," Valiante said. "Not that Monday and Tuesday weren't busy. It was steady. Monday and Tuesday we got different things, stuff that got wet in basements and yards and garages, and anything that was in refrigerators and freezers," food that spoiled because so many people were without power, he said.
"Usually on a Saturday we get one load which is about 80,000 pounds. Last Saturday we had two and a half (loads). That was before the storm. We were real busy on Friday and Saturday. Saturday it was bumper to bumper all the way out to the connector," said Valiante.
In Fairfield, a commercial wood-chipper at GreenCycle composting center on One Rod Highway was in use nearly non-stop Tuesday, as a long line of vehicles drove up to the scale before their contents of leaves, branches and other tree debris were emptied by weary residents and commercial haulers. The line was so long it backed up to the elbow in the road by the animal shelter and up the facility's driveway.
Hours at GreenCycle also were extended through Friday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. On Saturday, it will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they have added hours for Sunday and Monday, 8 a.m. until noon both days.
Most were patient about the long lines, observing that things were moving "pretty fast."
"This is my fifth trip today. We have a large garden and it took a beating," said Tom McFaul of Fairfield. He said he was about three-quarters of the way through storm clean-up of his property, and anticipated making several more trips to facility during the week.
Despite the widespread damage caused by Irene, McFaul said his personal experience with the storm ranked it behind Hurricane Gloria, the nor'easter of 1992 and "the Big Blow of a year ago March."
"Gloria was bad. So was the winter of '92. I'd put (Tropical Storm Irene) in the top three," said Bill Becker of Stratford, a commercial hauler, who raked branches from the back of his pickup.
On a trip to GreenCycle, Jon Bowers of Fairfield said "It wasn't that bad. We didn't get hit too hard.
"There were a lot of small branches (down). No big trees came down near us," said Bowers, whose family lives near Lake Mohegan. "But we still don't have power or a phone (as of Tuesday)," he said.
George Taterosian of Fairfield considers himself lucky. "We didn't get as hard hit as most of the town. We're up in the Samp Mortar area by St. Pius Church," he said. "We had power, but they took it away (Monday) night," Taterosian said, adding that power was restored in his neighborhood 14 hours later, but as of Tuesday he, like the Bowers, were still without phone and Internet. "And there are still roads closed off," he added.
Still, he said, "We were very fortunate. We've got a lot of limbs down but not like some people who lost total trees." He said the preparations before the storm hit were excellent on the state and local level, "but afterwards, I don't know what UI is doing. They don't inform anybody. You call and call and call and you wait, you wait and wait."
The wait at GreenCycle was a minor inconvenience compared to that, some said. Even when the line was almost two dozen vehicles long tempers did not flare.
"And we're slow now compared to before," said Lisa Gnandt, the manager of GreenCycle. "It was busiest yesterday (Monday), and Saturday is probably going to be a zoo," she said. "Yesterday was the height of it. There were 1,198 vehicles."
Two hours before the extended closing time Tuesday, 763 vehicles had emptied their contents at GreenCycle, Gnandt said.
"Even Saturday before the storm it was double what we normally get," she said.