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Sewage and flooding issues in Hartford's North End are the focus of a public listening session

Sharon Lewis, environmental advocate and affected resident attended a January 17, 2023, meeting where she shared her story of losing some of her most prized possessions, family heirlooms and her entire home due to over $100,000 worth of sewage flooding. She has been forced to live out of a hotel for over a month.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Sharon Lewis, an environmental advocate, attended a meeting on Jan. 17, 2023, where she shared her story of losing some of her most prized possessions, family heirlooms and her entire home due to over $100,000 worth of damage from sewage and flooding. She has been forced to live out of a hotel for over a month.

After a private virtual meeting with Hartford North End residents roughly two weeks ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met with residents and other local agencies for a public listening session to hear concerns about ongoing flooding and sewage problems.

Parts of the meeting were tense as residents confronted local and federal agencies over responsibility for the flooding.

Hartford North End residents called for accountability for what they say are long-standing sewage and flooding problems in their communities.

The in-person listening session included representatives from local and federal agencies, including the MDC, the municipal water service for the region.

Lisa Vivian said she was a North End business owner, a legacy her family had for 40 years.

“It was a nightmare for my family. The sewage came backing up. MDC never came up to check it. The city of Hartford never came out,” Vivian said. “We lost the building. To this day, it sits empty and vacant, and the sewage water, everything is still there in the basement from five years ago.”

Throughout the night, North End residents expressed their concerns and wanted an explanation on how and where officials have said billions of dollars of water and sewer improvements have already been made.

Authorities said they were at the meeting to listen to the community, not to speak, but they will collaborate to help the community overcome the flooding and sewage problems. They did speak afterward to reporters.

William DiBella, the MDC board chairman, told Connecticut Public that the Metropolitan District has spent $1.7 billion in the last 10 years or so attempting to improve infrastructure.

“We are working with the mayor. We are working with the state. You can’t just point a finger at one person,” DiBella said. “We got a system that’s designed for a 10-year storm. And when we get a 100-year storm, you get flooding.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said federal funding should be available for these kinds of infrastructure improvements and hopes to direct it to Connecticut.

David Cash, the EPA's regional administrator for New England, told Connecticut Public that his agency continues to inspect MDC's work and alleged neglect.

“We don’t have the final reports, but once the inspections are complete, there’ll be full transparency, and those will be shared with the community,” Cash added.

Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said climate change is causing more frequent and intense rainstorms affecting vulnerable communities.

“These are property owners, people who are invested in and rooted in this community,” Dykes said. “And so for us to think about, you know, federal funding, the lots of state funding that we”re putting into this infrastructure. That means bringing businesses back to life, helping to support the economic thriving of this community, especially a community that is paying into these funds.”

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.