HAVERHILL — The Massachusetts House has approved $20 million to extend the city's downtown river boardwalk, repair the flood wall and do other major projects.
Local leaders said they will pressure the Senate to approve the spending and ask Gov. Deval Patrick to support it as well, so the city can do the jobs it otherwise may not be able to afford.
State Rep. Brian Dempsey said the $20 million included funds for the boardwalk, flood wall, repairs to the Merrimack Street parking deck, and improvements to the road and sidewalks along Merrimack Street.
The projects were backed in transportation bond legislation, said Dempsey, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He said the bill now moves to the Senate before being sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for his approval.
"At this point, I will advocate to keep it in the final bill, and I'm optimistic this will happen," Dempsey said.
The next step would be to develop a plan for Haverhill to use the money and then have discussions with the governor and secretary of economic development, Dempsey said.
Mayor James Fiorentini said Dempsey will work on getting the money for Haverhill since the city lost its state senator, Steven Baddour, who recently resigned.
Fiorentini said it would ultimately be up to the governor to decide which projects to pay for.
"This is a great first step for us, as we've seen a tremendous amount of progress on Washington and Wingate Street and our focus now is on Merrimack Street," Fiorentini said. "We have no idea if the governor will fund this or how much, but this could lead to a second renaissance along Merrimack Street."
Haverhill has used federal and state money to make improvements in the Washington Street or western end of downtown. They include new sidewalks and a new parking deck. That work — plus new popular restaurants and lounges and hundreds of new apartments in old factories — have brought back the area.
The city now wants to focus on bringing back Merrimack Street in the eastern end of downtown.
Dempsey said as bonds are sold and money becomes available, projects are approved by the governor based upon the state's Five Year Capital Investment plan that sets out time lines and amounts for various projects around the state.
"This is an important step to allow Haverhill to better utilize the Merrimack River," Dempsey said of the $20 million. "The river is an asset to the city and is a major part of the continued development of the downtown area."
Dempsey said the project's authorization also lays the groundwork for critical infrastructure improvements to the downtown flood wall.
Federal officials have warned Haverhill that the flood wall's certification will expire this November unless the city makes the required improvements.
The 2,200-foot-long flood wall is on the north side of the river, essentially between the Comeau and Basiliere bridges, and along Washington and Merrimack streets. The 30-foot-high structure has guarded downtown from flooding from the Merrimack River for 75 years.
Fiorentini said it will cost at least $4 million to raise the flood wall by two feet as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as repair the wall in certain areas, upgrade the pump station behind the Washington Square Post Office, and inspect and make repairs to an underground pipeline.
He said without state help, the city would have to borrow the money, further extending Haverhill's already precarious finances.
If the flood wall loses its certification, flood insurance for private downtown property owners will skyrocket, city officials have said.
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.
Haverhill wants the money to:
Extend the downtown boardwalk along the river
Improve the flood wall downtown
Repair the parking deck on Merrimack Street
Increase marina access, possibly adding boat docks downtown
Improve the street and sidewalks along Merrimack Street