EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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November 17, 2012

Haverhill gets $4M for flood wall repairs

Prevents building owners' flood insurance from big hikes

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.

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