By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The city has received $4 million from the state that will be used to repair and raise the flood wall that has guarded downtown from the Merrimack River for 75 years.
Improving the flood wall is critical because federal officials have warned they will decertify the structure if the work isn’t done soon. That would cause dozens of downtown property owners to lose their flood insurance or see their rates skyrocket, city officials said.
Mayor James Fiorentini said regulators had set a deadline of this month for repairing and raising the concrete structure, but recently granted the city an extension. He said he was not sure when the latest extension is set to expire.
Nonetheless, the city expects to have the state money in hand in a few months and begin the flood wall project in the spring, the mayor said.
State Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, said the MassWorks grant is part of $38 million on its way to 26 Massachusetts communities for urban infrastructure projects. Haverhill’s $4 million was the largest award, he said.
Fiorentini said the money will be used to raise the 30-foot-high 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. Without the state money, the mayor said Haverhill would have to borrow to make the improvements, further extending its already precarious finances. 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. It has protected downtown from being deluged by the Merrimack River since the 1936 flood, which left the business district under several feet of water. Dempsey said the state infrastructure program is aimed at so-called gateway cities and town centers, where communities have planned ahead for new housing and commercial growth.
“These funds will provide for necessary work that will allow for ongoing improvement of downtown and efforts to better utilize the areas along the Merrimack River,” said Dempsey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “It also demonstrates the continued support that Gov. Deval Patrick and the Commonwealth have provided to Haverhill.”
Fiorentini said the extending the boardwalk along the river is also part of the flood wall project, but he was unsure when that part of the work would take place.
“This will help repair the flood wall and provide us the opportunity to continue to build our boardwalk along the Merrimack River,” the mayor said of the state money. “We are touching the surface of this project and there is a lot more to come.”
Last year, Haverhill received $1.2 million from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which was used to make long-overdue repairs to the Merrimack Street parking deck and renovate sidewalks and other improvements along Washington Street.