GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 1, 2013

Rising water, rising tensions

Flooding vexes city, property owners,

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — GLOUCESTER — Water has pooled up in the backyards, front yards and even basements of homes and businesses in the Myrtle Square area off Maplewood Avenue for as long as some can remember, and residents and tenants fed up with splashing and squishing through their land are calling on the city to help.

Officials, however, say their hands are tied in the situation.

On a rainless day Thursday at J M Harvey Glass, the front of the building at 68 Maplewood Ave. showed little signs of flood, and a rainy day brings less water into the shop since the Department of Public Works unclogged a drain up the street. But, rain or shine, a window on the back side of the shop reveals a sitting pool of water layered over a grassy private lawn belonging to the adjacent homeowner.

“It’s like having your own fishbowl,” John Harvey Jr. said Thursday, pointing out the window at some ducks floating on the water near a swing that hangs just above the still pool.

City Public Works Director Mike Hale said Thursday that while the city takes responsibility to make sure that the area’s roadways stay clear of pooled up water, but it can do nothing to remedy the issues of flooding within private properties, even if the flooding is caused by runoff from another private property.

“The city would do anything they could within reason to help develop a solution for this, but it still has to be taken into context that it’s a private property being flooded into other private property,” Hale said. “No one wants to see these residents or businesses have an issue with flooding, but at the same time, we just have to be mindful of what we can and can’t do.”

Years and years ago, Gloucester pumped water away from the area — which Hale referred to as a wetland. That kind of pumping is not within the city’s authority now, Hale said.

“The city’s first sewer was developed to dewater that area,” Hale said. “You filled in wetlands, you dewatered wetlands, that was the old way.”

John Harvey Sr. pointed at the area in an old photograph of the city, the date taken unknown. On the land that acted basically as a resting pond Thursday, the photo from years past depicts a garden and a house, the house’s sides dry.

“It’s just discouraging,” his wife, Grace Harvey, said. “You could see that there’s buildings there and now it’s just lake.”

To protect their own business, the Harveys have laid down rubber flooring in the office that can be pulled up and dried out, have purchased water pumps, created a removable system of boards to block splash water that seeps under their garage-style doors, and have even tried sandbagging the building’s sides.

“We’ve bought vacuums, pumps, hoses the works,” Harvey Sr. said.

The efforts are reinforced by the family fighting the water as it flows in, too, ready with mops and prepared to pick up the removable floor tiles in the office and hang them to dry after the rain.

“Every night it rains I jump up and I come here. I stand here with a mop, waiting for the water to come through the door,” Harvey Sr. said.

The Harveys plan to team up with some other area businesses and residents and meet to discuss a solution and urge the city to help fix the flooding that has nearly turned sections of their neighborhood into marsh.

In the first rainstorms the Harveys experienced at their glass and mirror shop, the family business lost papers, photos and documents they had not yet unpacked and had left in boxes on the first-floor office floor. But, said Harvey Sr., their losses pale in comparison to what their neighbors on the street have had to let go, one neighbor having had to rebuild a house after flood damage.

“We haven’t lost much compared to neighbors,” Harvey Sr. said. “They’ve been losing stuff for years.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.