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First Tropical Storm Irene; Next, the Building Code

Erik Eisele, NHPR

It’s been almost a month since Tropical Storm Irene caused major floods around New Hampshire.

For most of the state the storm is a memory and life has returned to normal.

For one neighborhood in Conway, however, the storm was just the beginning.

Transvale Acres is a hardhat zone.

SFX: Hammer pounding

The Conway neighborhood was hit hard when the Saco River flooded.

The water knocked houses off foundations, crested over cars and left people homeless.

But the construction sounds aren’t just from people rebuilding.

They’re also from people tearing apart their homes.

SFX: Saw

Dana Ferren used to live here.

His trailer was knocked off its foundation by the flood.

Now he’s chopping it up to sell for scrap.

When he’s done, he’s leaving.

“They don’t know if they’re going to let us put another one back in here.”

The flood waters receded weeks ago, but Ferren and the rest of Transvale Acres are caught in what could be called the second phase of Irene.

This phase isn’t a natural disaster.

This phase comes straight from the Conway selectmen.

“Our plan is to work with the residence to bring everyone into compliance with applicable development, zoning and health codes.”

Earl Sires is the Conway town manager.

His task: to clean up Transvale Acres.

But that means a lot more than just rebuilding what was there.

Transvale is tucked into the floodplain next to the Saco River.

It started as a campground.

For 40 years no one at the town paid much attention to what was going on there.

People built houses without building permits, put in septic systems without following environmental regulations, ran power lines to camper trailers without meeting building codes and put multiple trailers on single lots.

The neighborhood grew, unregulated for decades.

Then Irene came.

Town officials realized they couldn’t let what had been going on there continue.

But bringing the entire place up to code will be a monumental task, one that the people who live there are going to have to pay for.

That has residents worried.

“Some are really upset because most of them can’t afford to put in septics. Some of them are upset because their houses can’t be raised. Some of them are upset because the town is expecting more from us than the town has ever given us.”

Susan Blaney’s house survived Irene, but in the weeks after she got a notice from the town warning her she’ll be fined $750 a day if she doesn’t remover her camper trailer from her property.

“Do I believe everything should be up to code? Yeah. And when phone calls were made 15 years ago maybe they should have been answered.”

Town officials acknowledge Transvale Acres fell through the cracks, but they are determined to get it right.

Again, Earl Sires.

“This has given us an opportunity to do something we’ve needed to do for a long time.”

The town is counting on state and federal aid to help relocate people, resources it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“FEMA’s been phenomenal."

Again, Susan Blaney.

"From what I understand they have helped phenomenally with people that were really really devastated by this. They’ve been right there, helping out, answering questions, they’ve been great.”

But not everyone in Transvale Acres wants the help.

Like Dana Ferren.

“We’re going to try doing it on our own. We did this place on our own. We’ll try doing another one on our own.”

But unless it's up to code, it won't be in Transvale Acres.

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