By Marjorie Nesin
---- — “The residents and businesses of Maplewood Avenue have nothing against ducks. They’d just like to see them walking instead of swimming in their yards.”
City Councilor Melissa Cox said that Thursday, after sitting in on a meeting Wednesday night of area residents who discussed flooding problems in their neighborhood.
Cox learned firsthand that the residents believe the city could remedy issues that have led to major, long-term flooding of private property in and around Myrtle Square. Though the city Department of Public Works has studied the problem extensively and characterizes the flooding as a private property drainage issue, Cox said she will bring detailed maps of a potential solution to the city administration.
Privately hired engineers have explained that a drainage pipeline runs up Maplewood Avenue from the Prospect Street intersection then turns at the Maplewood Carwash and heads out toward the railroad tracks. Engineers hired by the residents suggest that the city continue the piping from the car wash on down Maplewood Avenue, tying in the flooded areas.
The city describes the flooding as a private issue rather than a city issue because public property is not involved; the flooding occurs on private property and seems to be caused by runoff from other private property. Still, Cox plans to speak with the administration before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and relay the answers to the frequently flooded businesses and residents.
“If there’s an overflow in the wetlands area, we still need to figure out why. I’m not at that point yet where I feel comfortable saying it’s a private-private problem,” Cox said. “We’re willing to help and we want to help if it lies within our realm of fixability. A business hurt, a homeowner hurt, hurts Gloucester.”
Public Works Director Mike Hale sees the flooded private property alongside dry city roads as a sign that city infrastructure is working as it should. The water that trickles onto public property drains off, he said; the water that pools and stands on private property has not been properly routed within that property.
“If a pipe was blocked, the water in the street would be the same height, and it’s not. That’s because every time it rains, a catch basic catches the water in the street and takes it where it needs to go,” Hale said. “The water is simply not getting from the wetland to the pipe.”
Hale said his department has examined the water drainage system in the Maplewood Avenue area many times, including last spring when crews cleared soot as well as items ranging from bicycle tires to televisions from the city drainage, allowing water that had been collecting in city streets to sink into the drains again.
Hale said the crews had checked the entire system as recently as last week, monitoring each access point and watching the water’s flow patterns, and it functions properly from the city’s standpoint. Come spring, Public Works will conduct another periodic check, though Hale doubts any changes will arise.
“At some point a second or third look is just as good as a fourth look, because we were just there,” Hale said. “I wish there was just something that you could say ‘this is the fix of it, I need to pull that obstruction out’ and it just goes away. But, I think the property owners and abutters are going to have to take a look at private infrastructure there.”
Many area businesses and residents hold the opinion that the Whistlestop Way shopping plaza created additional runoff when pavement went down and stores went up. According to Hale, if the shopping plaza does cause the runoff, the flooding problem is, in fact, an issue between the private businesses and the private residents.
In that case, city permits granted to the businesses could require a second look.
Strong Leather president Dave Cutter remembers a time in the 1970s when he could drive a truck from the rear of the leather shop up to the former Timberline lumber yard.
“Now you’d be over your head in water,” Cutter said. “I have two acres behind Strong Leather, where there were all buildings, and now its just a big swamp.”
Cutter said he and some other area residents and businesses had met in search of a solution that would end the finger pointing. Whether the excess water results from runoff caused by the Whistlestop Way plaza or not, now it’s about focusing on a solution and looking to the city for help.
“It’s beyond that. We’re not going to be taking buildings down, so let’s just look at a solution,” Cutter said. “We know what the problem is, it’s just a matter of whose going to pay to fix it.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.