EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 27, 2012

Mayor seeks OK to borrow $6M for flood wall

State to reimburse city $4M for project preventing insurance hikes

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL —Tonight, Mayor James Fiorentini will ask City Council for approval to borrow more than $6 million to repair and improve the downtown flood wall and related flood-controls in the area.

Haverhill received word last week that the state has awarded it $4 million to help pay for the project, but under the terms of the grant the city must borrow the full amount and seek reimbursement later. The mayor has said the state grant should arrive in a few months.

The city hopes to borrow the $6 million from the state’s revolving loan fund at 2 percent interest, the mayor said. If the loan goes through, the state will pay two-thirds of the project’s cost, with Haverhill footing one-third of the bill after receiving the $4 million state grant.

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. The mayor said that would cause privately owned properties along the downtown stretch of the river to lose flood coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program. Those property owners would then have to purchase expensive private flood insurance, he said.

Regulators had set a deadline of this month for repairing and raising the wall, but recently granted the city an extension, Fiorentini said.

Specifically, the $6 million will be used to raise the concrete flood wall by two feet as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 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.

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.

The mayor said extending an existing boardwalk along the river is also part of the flood wall project, but he was unsure when that part of the work will take place.

“Improvements to the flood wall have been designed so that eventually a boardwalk could be placed on the flood wall,” Fiorentini said in a letter to councilors on the project.

In a related matter, the council will get its first look tonight at a zoning proposal for properties along the Merrimack Street stretch of the river. The zoning proposal includes giving tax breaks and other incentives to developers who want to build large residential and commercial projects along the river and connect their properties to the planned boardwalk. While portions of boardwalk exist behind the Tap Brewhouse on Washington Street and in other places, the city hopes to eventually expand and extend it toward Merrimack Street and along the full run of the river downtown.