Essex road storm surge project site toured | News

ESSEX — Town officials Wednesday lead residents on a tour of two roads, one where a proposed improvement project is designed to prevent problems related to storm surge.

The tour stopped along the Main Street Causeway (Route 133) and on an approximately 800-foot section of Apple Street, close to its Southern Avenue end. Both areas are said by town officials to have a history of flooding, especially during “king tides.”

Such especially high tides are said to take place three or four times each year, usually in the spring. Apple Street and the Causeway are the only roads that connect the east and west parts of town. When the Causeway floods, emergency responders rely on Apple Street to get around town. However, in March 2018, both roads were flooded.

The Apple Street Roadbed Elevation and Culvert Replacement Project would widen the road from its width of 18 feet to 20 feet and increase the height of the road by between 2 and 5 feet. A culvert allowing a stream to travel under the road would also be replaced.

Town officials say the project will require the cutting of some trees and the temporary removal of some fences which would replaced when the project is completed.

The two-hour tour included presentations by town officials and was attended by about 50 residents. Essex police and fire officials, as well as Public Works employees, were on hand for the tour.

During the tour, a few residents meet tour goers with signs that cast doubt on the planned work. One sentiment expressed on the signs was that town officials are trying to ram the project through without the proper public hearings.

Apple Street resident Catherine Nicholas said the project has not yet been fully vetted.

“We need to have discussions about this before getting to this point,” she said.

Sea water corrosion an issue

Police Sgt. Ryan Davis said the flooding from high tides causes problems for public safety vehicles. The culprit, he said, is salty sea water that corrodes town equipment.

“It’s pretty common that water gets in there,” said Davis.

Davis also said storms often bring down trees and power lines along Apple Street.

“Apple Street is generally a tough road,” he said. “We need to be able to get back and forth.”

A letter from police Chief Paul Francis and fire Chief Ramie Reader was read by Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki to those gathered at Wednesday’s gathering:

“Power lines down are always a consideration and if either (police and fire departments) are off with live wires, waiting for the (National) Grid, we don’t have the option of leaving such a potentially hazardous situation,” the letter reads.

Public Works Superintendent Michael Galli said storm surge can cut the town in two when the Main Street Causeway floods.

“I can’t afford to have trucks stranded on (both) sides of the town,” said Galli.

Zubricki said experts and Essex stakeholders have already weighed-in on “concerns of climate change and rising sea levels.” He added that police and fire officials are limited when responding to emergency calls when either or both roadways are flooded.

While raising Apple Street is feasible, the state Department of Transportation has determined that the roadbed of Route 133 on the Causeway cannot be elevated due to complexities associated with the businesses and restaurants that flank the road.

Zubricki said while the Apple Street project costs have yet to be determined, approximately 90% of the project would be paid for with federal appropriations.

The town is working to finalize design plans for the project and is also seeking to obtain all the needed permits.

“This was an opportunity for the town to replace an aging culvert,” said Zubricki. “The project is funded to get us through the final design. We are not hiding anything.”

Project protest

Still, some residents lack faith in the project plans.

“I think there are other solutions they can consider,” said Apple Street resident Janet Carlson, who was joined by a few residents who meet tour goers with signs that cast doubt on the planned work.

One resident said town officials are trying to ram the project through without the proper public hearing.

However, Zubricki said a number of public discussions have already taken place — especially during meetings of the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board. Discussion about the projects has been held in Essex since 2018, he said.

Zubricki pointed out data from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency backs the argument that storm surge will only get worse in the future.

“We are really not trying to whip up fear,” said Zubricki. “I see this as a measured approach. The data we have shown is right on track.

“We are not doing anything behind the scenes.”

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