Nikeda Parkes points towards her back yard, where she discovered several sinkholes from constant flooding after purchasing her home at 294 Granby Street a few years ago. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

For decades, homes in Hartford’s North End have been plagued by regular flooding, and nobody took responsibility for fixing the problem.

But on Monday, state and local officials, led by Gov. Lamont and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, announced a $170 million project to correct decades of environmental injustice.

Standing in front of a house at 294 Granby St. that has had chronic flooding issues, politician after politician apologized for how long it has taken to hear the residents’ pleas for help and promised that they will not leave now until the flooding is stopped.

“I’m sorry and shamed at how long it took us to get here, but we are here now, and we’re not leaving until we get it right for each every one of you in this community,” Lamont said. “If there were sewage bubbling up in a basement in Guilford or Greenwich they’d be getting that fixed overnight, and now we’re gonna get it fixed right here on Granby Street and beyond.”

The $85 million to pay the state’s portion will come from the Clean Water Fund, which is administered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, to implement a pilot program that will address sewage overflows in streets and basements homes and businesses in North Hartford.

A branch grows out of the side of Nikeda Parkes’ home, distorting the wall that connects to her son’s bedroom. She has discovered several sinkholes from constant flooding since purchasing it a few years ago. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said the funds will be applied to 12 projects proposed by the Metropolitan District Commission to increase protections from sewer and stormwater-related flooding and backups in North Hartford. Five projects are slated to begin in 2023, six projects will begin in 2024, and one project will begin in 2025.

Officials expect the first shovels in the ground by the end of summer.

The rest of the funding will be provided by MDC, and Dykes said the agency has promised the project costs will be covered within the current MDC rate structure, with no impact on current rates. 

Dykes said the projects will include a pilot program where MDC will be allowed to go onto private properties and propose fixes for each property that would then be paid through the $170 million. 

There also is $5 million set aside to cover the costs that residents have endured or will face if there is another storm and sewage overflows into their basements. An administrator will be hired to review claims and submit them to the state Comptroller’s Office for payment.

Nikeda Parkes stands in front of her home at 294 Granby St. in Hartford, where she discovered several sinkholes from constant flooding after purchasing it a few years ago. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

Delores Quinn, owner of Deloreses Masonry Services, wondered if the $5 million would be anywhere near enough to compensate homeowners for flooding damages in the past.

“The past few years, I’ve been in more basements than I can count helping people who were flooded,” Quinn said. “All those places have to be sanitized because of the sewerage before you even get to damage to furnaces or water heaters or try installing a sump pump.”

State officials said the $5 million fund will be renewed annually and that more can be added to it if needed.

Dykes said the impetus for Monday’s announcement was a community meeting last February where resident after resident recalled their flooding horror stories that took place after two major back-to-back storms in August 2021 — storms Fred and Ida.

For some of the speakers, the problem is personal. Sen. Douglas McCrory pointed across Granby Street to the home he grew up in as he spoke.

“You see that house right there? That’s my mama’s house, and I was born and raised in that house. You see that young lady across the street there? That’s Miss Burke. That’s Miss Mansfield. That’s the lady who walked me up the street,” McCrory said. “Those people have lived in this community for over 30 or 40 years dealing with this problem.”

“I’m happy that this is a good start. But I’m disappointed that it took this long. There’s been flooding ever since I was a child, and everybody passed the buck to the next person and then to the next person, and it took a storm that was an act of God to make people come to realize the problems.”

McCrory stood with the rest of the city’s state legislators, all of whom worked to get the funding for the project. House Speaker Matt Ritter acknowledged that, for a long time, “the trust has been so frayed that you can’t even get to a bill because you can’t even talk the same language about what the next steps ought to be.”

“I remember that first meeting and the emotion and the tension … What it said to me is we got to do something. People are at their wits’ end. And so the three things we laid out were more money for more projects, a fund that will allow people to be reimbursed, and reporting requirements. And we did all three,” Ritter said.

Making sure the projects are done on time and the money is spent properly and fairly is key, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

“We need to make sure there’s oversight and scrutiny and make sure that stuff happens on time. It’s not about 10 years from now, it ought to be about 10 weeks, 10 months from now, work beginning right away, so we don’t ask residents to wait any longer for environmental justice,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said while the Clean Water Fund does contain some federal funding, much more will be needed to overcome decades of neglect.

“The federal government has an obligation to do much, much more. And I’m not done fighting for this community and others who were similarly affected,” Blumenthal said. “The problems here are about environmental justice. It’s simple, straightforward environmental justice. The reason it took so long, the reason we’re not done, the reason why we still face threats of flooding and wastewater contamination is inequity and injustice.”

All Alice Nance wants is to be able to plant her flowers again. She has lived in the North End for more than 20 years and has endured multiple floods that have ruined her backyard.

“I can’t enjoy my backyard. I can’t enjoy my basement because of the floods. I have mold. I have sinkholes in my yard,” Nance said. “But today, looking around, I have hope that I will be able to enjoy my home again and be able to plant my flowers.”

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.