NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 2, 2013

Rebuild of Town Creek culvert begins

Work will stop flooding to area businesses, town officials say

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY — Crews are rebuilding the Town Creek trestle and culvert, hopefully ending the threat to Bridge Road businesses owners that its failure would again flood out their establishments as has done twice in recent years.

In 2007, it was the rain, winds and extremely high tides of the Patriots Day storm that collapsed the old railroad trestle over Town Creek, a tributary of the Merrimack River. The catastrophe sent water coursing into local businesses, as well as closing the northern portion of Bridge Road, or Route 1, twice a day, at every high tide for a week.

For Harbor Garden Center, Gordon’s Sew and Vac, David’s Fish Market, Hudson’s Outboard and others, the scenario devastated their businesses for weeks, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost inventory, lost income, flood damage and clean-up costs. For drivers and residents, it shut down the region’s second major north/south corridor to daily travel and emergency vehicles.

It was the second time floods impacted the area, Lamprey said. The first time was the Mother’s Day storm of 2006 that brought record amounts of rain, which invaded his business and others until the waters receded.

After the 2007 breach of the trestle, Salisbury hired SPS New England, a local heavy construction company, to make emergency repairs. But even at a cost of about $350,000, the work was temporary, said Salisbury Public Works Director Donald Levesque. Although the town received most of its expenditure back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster funding, officials knew a permanent, more expensive remedy was necessary so history didn’t continue to repeat itself.

News those repairs are about to begin has been well received.

Matthew Blaney, owner of Gordon’s Sew and Vac, said it meant he could relax when he hears storm forecasts.

“It’s excellent news,” Blaney said. “When a big storm came, you never knew what was going to happen, or if you’d get to your business and have a very bad day.”

It took six years, two grant applications, three funding sources, and the cooperating of federal and state officials and agencies, as well as the help of Salisbury Town Meeting and local businesses to get the funding and numerous permits needed to bring Rhode Island’s Hugo Key and Sons on site. Arriving this week to start preparations, the company can start rebuilding the culvert on Nov. 15, with a completion date of April 15. The in-water repair window is precise to ensure no damage to indigenous species.

A major portion of funding, $785,708, comes from a FEMA pre-hazard mitigation grant, according to Town Manager Neil Harrington. The money filtered down to Salisbury through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, he said. The program provides money to communities to prevent known catastrophes, he said.

It took two tries to get the grant, Harrington said, for Salisbury’s first application was rejected. MEMA gave the town sound technical advice on how to amend its second grant attempt, which was successful, he said. U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Salem, also lobbied strongly on behalf of the town.

Affected businesses helped enormously, Harrington said, by sharing evidence of the financial distress the flooding caused. Their figures proved to government agencies that funding the culvert project for an estimated $1,027,708, was less costly than paying for future flood damage.

Harrington said it was state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, who helped Salisbury access state funding for the remainder needed to do the job.

“Rep. Costello inserted language in the state environmental bond bill four or five years ago that would provide Salisbury with $350,000 for the project,” Harrington said. “The governor needs to release those (bond) funds, and the Governor’s office has authorized the release of $242,000.”

Should the project costs go beyond its estimate, Harrington hopes Gov. Deval Patrick will release the remainder of the money set aside for Salisbury. And just in case, he added, years ago Town Meeting approved borrowing for the Town Creek remedy.

The grant requires Salisbury to maintain the project once completed, and a maintenance platform will be built to enable that. The platform must be large enough to hold machinery that can remove debris if debris causes clogging, Harrington said.

According to the project’s design, instead of one, there will be two culverts built with two tide gates, to improve more than just the flood threat. The new design pleased state and federal environmental agencies, he added.

“This is an important project,” Harrington said. “It will prevent the flooding of Town Creek and the devastating impact that flooding had on local businesses. The (second) culvert will improve the natural flow of water in and out of the salt marsh and enhance the indigenous species of fish and the marine population and environmental health of the salt marsh.”

Lamprey was particularly happy to hear the work at the Town Creek culvert would improved the hydraulics of the salt marsh, for he believes a good portion of the flooding problem is the sluggish flow of water in and out of the area.

“I’m excited this is actually going to happen,” Lamprey said. “We know the water flow has been restricted. Hopefully, with the work they’re going to do, water will be able to flow in and out of the salt marsh better, and improve the salt marsh overall.”