Shelton ‘dream home’ becomes flood nightmare - are city pipes to blame?

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — The Voltolinis moved into what they thought was their dream home in April 2018.

But the couple’s Capitol Drive home turned into a watery nightmare only five months later, after major rains caused flooding in the yard and into the house, destroying what had been a finished basement. Three years later, almost to the day, a tropical storm doused the region and the house flooded again.

Ethan Voltolini blames the flooding on what he believes is an easement that draws water from wetlands on his property and flows into city pipes that go under Capitol Drive and discharge across the street.

City officials, however, disagree, saying that the natural watercourse that runs through his property and across the street is the responsibility of the homeowners. While the two 15-inch pipes are the city’s responsibility, Public Works Superintendent Brian Roach said he inspected them and reported the pipes are not blocked or damaged. The pipes are large enough to handle the area’s stormwater, Roach said.

Voltolini disagrees.

“My problem is I believe the pipes are too small to handle the amount of water we can get here,” Voltolini said.

Although the interior of his home has only flooded twice since 2018, water regularly collects on the property in major rainstorms, he said.

“Water on our property channels through the wetlands. It goes through city pipes and dumps across the street,” he said. “In regular rain, it’s fine, but in heavy rain, we see serious water. The pipes begin to submerge … they can’t handle the amount of water, which then comes up to the house and into the house.”

The city’s Public Works Department did come out with a backhoe after the most recent flooding and cleared a significant amount brush from the area across the street, Voltolini said. But he wonders if that’s enough.

“It is great, I am thankful they came and cleared out the channel, but I think pipes are too small to handle the water,” he added. “I don’t know the end game here, but I think the best way would be to replace the pipes.”

Voltolini said he and his wife bought the Capitol Drive home in April 2018 and in September of that year the entire lower finished basement flooded with three feet of water from the easement that leads into city pipes.

“I called (public works) probably about 20 times after that occurred and usually was unable to get in touch with (anyone),” he said.

He said after sending a letter with photos of the flooding and home damage, public works reached out and did send out a crew to blow out and drain the pipes. Then crews cleared the easement across the street where the water dumps out.

“I’m not sure if that is indirect acknowledgment that it’s a city issue, but I get the idea that (the city) knows exactly what is going on and who is responsible,” Voltolini said. “Back then I mentioned that the pipes were too small and would need to be replaced and (public works officials) said that would never happen as that would mean they would have to rip up the road. The town never came, and the easement was never cleaned.”

Fast forward to September 2021, about three years later. Heavy rain once again had water backed up to the house and flooding the basement.

“I was told (by the city and past owner) there had never been an issue like this here in 25 years,” Voltolini said. “Five months after I buy the house, there’s three feet of water in my basement. I waited three years to refinish the basement, I convinced myself this was a 100-year storm back in 2018. Two weeks after the work was done, water comes in again.”

Roach said the land records show no city easement, but the city is responsible for the pipes that go under the street. After Voltolini’s most recent call about flooding, his crews cleared brush from across the street from 15 Capitol Drive. They then checked for blockages and even jet cleaned the pipes to be sure, he said.

“There has been no history of flooding on the property until recently,” Roach said.

Roach and Inland Wetlands Administrator John Cook toured the property and examined topography maps and aerial photos from the 1970s. And what they found was that the area where the water runs along Voltolini’s property was much wider, suggesting that work on the site that may have been done in years past that has impacted the water flow on the property.

Roach also said the storms during which Voltolini has experienced the severe flooding have been significant, with tropical storm-type rains that have led to flooding in areas that had never seen such water collection in prior years.

Cook has stated that from what he observed, no additional work is needed, but Voltolini disagrees.

“I have living proof that it is in fact not adequate as my home was flooded on more than one occasion,” Voltolini stated in a letter to Cook. “We’ve lost memorable items and I’ve incurred over $16,000 in damage and reconstruction costs. So, if there is going to be no further action, then I find that unacceptable.”

He said no one should have to live like his family does.

“I’m just trying to protect my home, my family, my daughter,” he said. “This is devastating. We lost everything in the basement in 2018. It’s so frustrating.”