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Feb 06

From the Town Administrator's Desk - February 7, 2019

Posted on February 6, 2019 at 10:55 AM by Elizabeth Dukes


At Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, considerable time was spent on two flood mitigation efforts.  These two efforts are part of a larger game plan to study what measures the town might need to take in order to protect us against larger flood events and rising sea levels. 

First, a look at the bigger picture.  Flooding occurs today in certain parts of town.  Sawmill Brook as it comes through the village, while normally staying within it banks, has caused considerable property damage in large storms.  We see seawater coming up into the Town Hall parking lot, occasionally getting into Town Hall and the sewer treatment plant. With sea level rise accelerating, we could face more frequent and larger flooding problems.  The trends over the next 10 or so years will be telling.  Other vulnerable areas in town include Reed and Masconomo Park, extending back to the train station, the Raymond Street and Ocean Street areas, Bennet Brook and the low lands on our western shores near the Beverly line.  The state has a new web site that shows vulnerable shorelines all along the coast (

We have done extensive analysis of Sawmill Brook, developed plans for flood proofing the sewer plant and Town Hall, and, at a conceptual level, discussed the idea of a storm barrier at the mouth of the harbor as a potential long-term solution if necessary.  Grant applications are being submitted for the flood proofing work at Town Hall and the sewer plant.

The presentation at the Selectmen’s meeting regarding the replacement of the dilapidated dam and culvert on Central Street where Sawmill Brook empties into the inner harbor focused on the necessity of removing the tide gate as part of the reconstruction work and whether we should re-establish the brook as a free-flowing stream rather than creating a new berm or other retention structure to maintain Central Pond. 

The flow projections indicate that we gain the most relief from floods in this area if we re-establish a free flowing brook.  The current tide gate restricts the flow of floodwaters out into the harbor without affording any protection against storm surge.  Creating an aesthetically pleasing landscape to replace the old pond will be important if the stream option is chosen. The Selectmen will continue their discussion regarding which option for the pond area – stream, mini-impoundments with inter-connecting stream, or a lower level permanent pond – will be pursued. The three options, in the order listed, have increasing complexities for permitting, construction costs and maintenance. 

A proposal to study ways to mitigate the impacts of rising sea levels in the White Beach area garnered much concern from citizens, especially those who live in the area.  The original proposal was overzealous in its focus on a so called “living shoreline” solution  (vs. the “do nothing” and shoring up the road bed options that were also to be studied)  which  could result in asking voters to eliminate a portion of Ocean Street along White Beach.  This prospect became a major concern, in addition to a lack of outreach about the grant application in the first place and other resiliency priorities.  After listening to many opposed to the study going forward as well as to those who felt the study was worthwhile given the new information it would generate, the Selectmen voted to see if we could re-direct the grant award to another study area.  Staff will be working on this to see what might be possible. 

Addressing our future needs requires detailed analysis, the presentation of options, strong citizen input and, ultimately, decisions with which at least of majority agree.  With your help, we will continue this work that will lead to good outcomes.