EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 12, 2013

Keep waters at bay

River gauge offers security to flood victims

ANDOVER — Everyone has memories related to Mother’s Day. But some in the region remember one year more vividly than the rest: 2006, when they were forced to evacuate their homes in rowboats after a brutal rainstorm pushed the Merrimack and Shawsheen rivers well beyond their limits.

The flooding, which turned a portion of Route 28 through Andover and the surrounding property into a mile-long pond, caused more than $2.5 million in damages, not including what insurance companies wouldn’t cover, according to North Main Street resident J. Barry Mahoney.

“That was really horrible. We had no warning,” said Connie Greenwood of Washington Park Drive. “They took (residents) out in boats and trucks from the town.”

Last week, residents adjacent to the Shawsheen in the area of North Main and Balmoral streets won some assurance that they won’t end up trapped again if the river should overflow.

Town Meeting agreed to spend $60,000 in tax dollars on a stream-gauging station on the Shawsheen River to record water levels and broadcast flood warnings days in advance.

Despite opposition from the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee, the citizens’ petition won by an overwhelming margin. The funds will allow the gauge to remain online through October 2017.

The 2006 flood caught residents by surprise. Many seniors were forced to quickly evacuate, leaving vital medications and other belongings behind with no immediate chance of returning to retrieve them, Mahoney said.

Cars throughout the area were destroyed. The showroom at Woodworth Motors at Shawsheen Square was flooded with up to 20 inches of water. Market Basket which had employees establish a wall of sandbags at each entrance, was the only retailer in Shawsheen Plaza that didn’t lose its stock.

The following year, a gauge was installed on the river at Balmoral Street. But town funding for the station was eliminated in 2010. Concerned businesses and residents agreed to cover half of the $15,000 in annual operating costs, with the federal government matching their support. Then, last June, the federal funds were lost completely.

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