HAVERHILL — People who own downtown property along the Merrimack River will avoid big hikes in their insurance rates.
Last night, City Council approved Mayor James Fiorentini’s request to borrow $6 million to repair and raise the downtown flood wall and renovate a 2,000-foot-long stretch of tunnel that guides Little River under the city center, emptying it into the Merrimack River.
But the mayor said he’s not sure how much of the $6 million the city will have to actually borrow for the federally-mandated flood-control project. He said he hopes to use some of the $4 million Haverhill recently received from the state for downtown improvements and that the city has also applied for a federal grant that would pay up to half of the city’s cost of the work. Haverhill expects to learn in January if it will receive the federal grant and how much of the state money it can use for the project, the mayor said.
Improving the flood wall is critical because federal officials have warned they will decertify the 76-year-old structure if the work isn’t done soon. Public Works Director Michael Stankovich said that would increase flood insurance rates for about 35 privately owned properties along the downtown stretch by an estimated $250,000 in total per year.
Repairing the flood wall will also allow the city to remain in a program through which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay to restore the wall if it is damaged in a natural disaster such as a severe flood or an earthquake.
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.