$4.2M loan OK'd to protect wastewater plant

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo. The City Council voted unanimously to approve a $4.2 million loan authorization to protect the city's waste water treatment plant, pictured here on Essex Avenue in Gloucester, from the rising tides. 9/26/20

The City Council voted unanimously last week to approve a $4.2 million loan authorization to protect the city's wastewater treatment plant from rising tides. 

The loan will help cover the costs of what is being called the Water Pollution Facility Flood Mitigation Project. The Department of Public Works construction project aims to erect a barrier around Gloucester's wastewater treatment plant on Essex Avenue to protect it from flooding and storm surge. 

The project will create three different types of wall — masonry block, earth and berm, and sheet pile — around the plant.

The total flood barrier project, according to the city's Office of the Treasurer/Collector, is estimated to cost $4.2 million. Chief Financial Officer John Dunn sent this breakdown of preliminary estimated costs  to Councilor at-Large Jamie O'Hara prior to last week's council meeting: 

$2,136,000 for construction.

$946,000 for contingency costs.

$589,000 for general conditions, bonds, overhead and profit.

$214,000 each for engineering and design, and for engineering and construction management.

Dunn said that while the loan authorization is for $4.2 million, he is hopeful the final cost on the project will be less. 

"It is better to be submitting a loan order on the high side and then rescind the balance than to come back and have to increase it," he explained. 

The city received a $94,200 grant from the state Office of Coastal Zone Management last year to conduct the preliminary design.

The city has been selected through the U.S. Economic Development Administration's (EDA) competitive application review process for further consideration for funding in the amount of $3 million for the project.  

As of Friday, the city was still waiting to hear the EDA's decision.

The need for a barrier, Public Works Director Mike Hale said, is threefold: To guarantee the safety of the employees and longevity of the city's assets, and in the knowledge that the Essex Avenue property will be the future location of the city's primary and secondary wastewater treatment plant.

Hale recalled an incident last January that highlighted the urgency of such a barrier.

"As early as last year's January storms, that whole campus was underwater," Hale said of the water treatment plant. "The building wasn't, but the campus was underwater."

He added that employees were not able to leave the facility and were "trapped" during the high tide cycles.

If tides and stormwater pool continue around the facility, the city runs the risk of losing the wastewater treatment plant altogether. 

"If this was inundated with ocean water, we would lose power, we would lose pumps. The facility would be rendered useless," Hale said, explaining that all of the low-lying areas in the city would suffer greatly. 

"Saltwater is not kind to electrical equipment," he noted.

Other councilors noted the harm not building this barrier would have on the city.

Council President Steve LeBlanc explained how wastewater spilling into the ocean would "devastate" the shellfish industry.

"We can kiss commercial and residential shellfishing goodbye for quite a while," he said. 

Although Hale does not have a definite timeline for the project, he emphasized that it has to happen soon. 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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