HAVERHILL — It was a tale of two cities at last week’s City Council meeting.
Mayor James Fiorentini gave a rosy assessment of Haverhill and its future at his annual State of the City speech Tuesday night. He spotlighted a number of highly-anticipated economic development projects that promise to transform and revitalize large swaths of the city. He said Haverhill’s schools, Police Department, recreational amenities and finances are all on the upswing.
“I can tell you that the road ahead looks bright,” the mayor concluded in his remarks at the packed City Council meeting. “Tonight I can report to you that the state of our city is strong.”
A half hour or so later, after the crowd moved to a reception downstairs in the mayor’s office, the city’s water and sewer chief offered a more sobering assessment of Haverhill’s future.
Robert Ward, the city’s deputy public works director, told councilors that federal environmental regulators appear to be about to crack down on the city for its slow progress in making improvements to its combined sewer overflow system that is polluting the Merrimack River.
The city must spend almost $9 million to upgrade the sewer system this year, and possibly $35 million or more in the future to appease regulators, Ward said. He said the city will likely have to significantly increase the cost of city sewer service in a few years. He also floated the idea of creating a new storm water fee to help pay for the work.
Those two items — a hike in sewer rates and adding a new fee — threaten to significantly increase the bills of residents and businesses.
The antiquated combined sewer/drainage system, which serves about one third of the city including downtown, is a network of underground pipes — called CSOs — that collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater.