July 15, 2021

Moulton tours Manchester's $6M anti-flooding project

MANCHESTER — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton visited Manchester on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the town’s proposed $6 million infrastructure project to combat rising sea tides and flooding downtown.

Town Administrator Greg Federspiel and Town Engineer and Facilities Manager Nathan Desrosiers took Moulton, D- Salem, on a short tour highlighting the three downtown areas in need of fixing — the bridge and culvert on Central Street by Town Hall, the manmade channel that directs water from Sawmill Brook to the Atlantic Ocean, and Central Pond. They were joined by Selectmen Jeffrey Bodmer-Turner and John Round.

Moulton spent Wednesday surveying ongoing infrastructure projects in his district that mitigate the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Earlier in the day, he was in Ipswich to survey and discuss efforts to restore Argilla Road and entrance to Crane Beach. 

“We’re trying to find ways to expedite these projects and make them less expensive,” said Moulton. “Infrastructure is the foundation of all economic efforts. We’re fortunate to live in the oldest part of the country, but unfortunately that means our infrastructure is old. Almost every coastal town is seeing sea level rise, and every storm is getting worse.”

Manchester’s project has three phases, beginning with a new bridge and culvert on Central Street. A 2016 inspection by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation found the bridge to be in “overall poor condition,” citing missing keystones, exposed concrete patches, substandard railings and heavily deteriorated surfaces.

In addition, the current culvert’s 4-foot flood gate is too small to allow excess storm water to drain to the ocean. With no place else to go, water overflows the channel and floods downtown between Elm and School streets. Without proper mitigation, these floods are expected to only get more severe due to rising sea levels.

The second phase will repair Sawmill Brook’s crumbling channel walls. Sections of the nearly century-old wall, particularly below the Manchester Fire Station parking lot, are in complete disrepair. The damage is only exacerbated when water seeps through the cracks and erodes the exposed earth behind it.

Finally, Central Pond will be fully rehabilitated into a “living shoreline” by restoring the pond’s natural salt marsh grass areas. In turn, the new pond will improve the area’s aesthetics and hopefully reestablish the habitat for migratory fish and other wildlife.

The town is currently seeking all the necessary permits to get the project off the ground. Desrosiers said the town has already secured four and is waiting on the final two.

“They take about six to nine months for reviews, and they all need to be done in sequential order,” he explained. “Between the state-level and the federal-level grants, (every department) has to have a say in it. Even the Coast Guard reached out to us to inquire if (Sawmill Brook) was a navigable water way — then they would need to permit it, too.” 

Last December, the town applied for a $4.5 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program. Federspiel said it is the only project in New England that is still under review for a BRIC grant. He expects FEMA will announce the grant recipients by the end of a year. If all goes according to plan, Federspiel hopes to have the project start in the fall of 2022. 

Federspiel told Moulton that if the project receives the necessary funding, it would be the “biggest infrastructure project on (the town’s) books.” 

By:  Michael Cronin
Source: Gloucester Daily Times