Connecticut Owners Rebuilding Barns That Collapsed Under Snow

By Emily Groves and Adam Benson | July 18, 2011

Wayne Paquette stood beside a mangled pile of metal, the ribs of one of his greenhouses. Beside him, only the two gable ends of the Quackin’ Grass Nursery structure remained.

Paquette’s Brooklyn, Conn., greenhouse, like many other agriculture structures, last winter fell victim to the massive weight of piled snow. Now that summer is here, farmers and business owners across the region are making plans to rebuild.

Steven Reviczky, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, said 542 agriculture structures in the state last winter sustained total or partial collapses.

In an average year, collapses are “few and far between,” Reviczky said.

But the snowfall last winter was far from average. A Jan. 12 storm broke the one-day snowfall record in the state, when 25 inches fell at Bradley International Airport, where snowfall amounts for the state are measured. The state also broke its record for the snowiest January. And the 57 inches that fell in January also made it Connecticut’s snowiest month.

Reviczky said his department made a concerted effort to track the number of collapses, because it applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for monetary relief.

“Unfortunately, while our folks suffered significant losses to farm buildings, we never got to the point where we reached that threshold,” Reviczky said.

The federal department provided some financial assistance on a farm-by-farm basis for the loss of livestock, Reviczky said, but this was limited, too, because farms losing horses did not qualify.

Paquette, owner of the Brooklyn nursery, said he is waiting for a construction proposal, but estimates the cost to replace the lost greenhouse, one of three at his nursery, will be around $18,000.

He also lost many plants in the collapse, but never estimated the financial damage. Strategically, losing the greenhouse has been a hardship, because it was the nursery’s “woodland house” during the summer months, and stored a lot of the trees.

“We only have so much space here, and we’re overwhelmed with stock,” Paquette said. “With all the work we have going on here, this is the last thing we wanted to take on.”

He held a fundraiser in May with a core group of supporters and said the money raised will help offset the costs, but will not cover it all. Paquette said his building had been insured, but his claim was denied. He hopes to rebuild later this summer or in the fall.

Lebanon Building Official Peter Zvingilas said last winter’s weather forced the demolition of three barns that are now being rebuilt.

“Normally, we don’t have any come down, so that was an infinite increase,” Zvingilas said. “It was a lot of cost involved, too.”

In Salem, the roof caved in on a century-old barn on Route 354, and Building Official Vernon Vesey ordered it taken down because of safety concerns. First Selectman Kevin Lyden said the property’s owner has been cooperative, but he supported Vesey’s decision.

“It was collapsed beyond repair,” Lyden said. “The owner is salvaging whatever he can, but the barn couldn’t be fixed.”

Paul Miller, owner of Fairvue Farms in Woodstock, had a roof collapse at one of his barns Jan. 29. Miller said the sides of the structure are still intact and the barn is still being used, but not as effectively.

Miller said the barn provides much-needed shade for cows in the summer, but without the roof, the animals are having to stand in the sunlight.

Miller’s barn wasn’t insured, and he estimates a cost of $10,000 to repair it. He said money isn’t the issue as much as finding material to match the existing structure and the time to do the work.

“I guess we have a lot of challenges in farming, but we seem to survive,” Miller said.

Reviczky agreed. He said the weather especially seems to throw a curveball at farmers.

“For the most part, farmers are pretty resilient, so they play with the cards that are dealt them,” Reviczky said. “They deal with the situation and they move forward.”

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