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Friday, January 21, 2011

ENEL Flood Problems

I was called this AM and reminded that Senator Scott Brown's State Director, Jerry P McDermott, would be at the Elks Club today at 1130, to listen to involved citizens talk about ENEL's proposal to install a bladder dam on the Merrimack River.

Mr Jerry P McDermott operates out of Boston.  He was a good listener, which may partly have come from six years on the Boston City Council. He also spent time with Habitat for Humanity.

Frankly, going into the meeting I didn't really have a strong opinion on this issue.  It turned out I didn't have the facts.  I now have a strong opinion.  But first to the meeting.

State Rep Tom Golden hosted the meeting, but had to run to Beacon Hill for a meeting.  Leadership passed to Mayor James L. Milinazzo, who gave us an equally quick introduction and passed it to the Citizens.

Present from the Government side, besides the Mayor, were Representatives Joseph M. Mendonça, Franky D. Descoteaux and Rita M. Mercier.  From Rep Golden's office we had Ms Doreen Burges, from Rep Tsongas's office we had Mr Brian Martin and from Senator Kerry's office Ms Ashley O'Neill.  Councilor Rita Mercier represented the City Council Flood Issues Sub-Committee, whose other members are Councilor Rodney Elliott (Chair) and Councilor Patrick Murphy.

Others I recognized included Jack Mitchell and Tom Wirtanen.  Also present were John Nappi and Sam Polten, of WCAP.

There were—I didn't count, so my guestimate—more than 30 and less than 50 people present. The crowd is calm, collected, but with strong views.

I would say the watchword amongst the Citizens giving their stories the watchword was "Private profit, public risk".

Before the meeting started I heard one chap saying that the extra foot added to the dam flashboards by ENEL caused his basement to flood.  Somehow the flashboards went from 4 foot to 5, year round.  I also saw a three page letter that Tom Wirtanen had, dated 28 May 2008 and signed by William Guey-Lee, Chief, Engineering and Jurisdiction Branch, Division of Hydropower Administration and Compliance.

The meeting started with Rep Golden introducing Mr McDermott and bidding farewell and Mr McDermott pleading, in a jocular manner, "Don't leave me, Tom."

Then the Citizens began commenting, starting with Danellia, who lives in the River Front Apartments (off VFW Highway) and has experiencing flooding.  Heard that there are upstream factors involved, including areas being paved over for parking lots, meaning that the soil is not absorbing rain upstream.  Her insurance is up.  She believes we need smart mitigation, including working State-to-State issues.  How utility holds back the water is an issue, including saturating land, leading to more flooding.

Councilor Mercier talked about the Flood Issues Subcommittee and about wanting to revert Lowell's flooding areas back to being God's Country.  Hundred year floods becoming annual.  ENEL has a right to make money, but not at the expense of residents and flooded basements.

The next person stated that Flashboards work to drop the water level when needed.  Based on the Lawrence experience, Inflatables (Bladder Dam) back up water 23 miles.  If the bladder bursts it could hurt people down stream.  Such a system killed a girl in Australia and caused 2,000 homes to be evacuated in Arizona.  Yes, area is a flood plain, but more so than before.

The next person noted that hydroelectric production changed when ENEL took over.  Changes caused water to be backed up and soil saturated and riverbank destroyed, even as far up stream as New Hampshire.  Tyngsboro has filed as an interventor.

The Chelmsford Emergency Management Director spoke and worried about flooding, especially the Williamsburg area.

Ray Pelletier, built his home in 1960.  Then the basement was dry, then later it became wet and he jacked up his home 44 inches and then later noted the brook by his home was going up, and noted an extra foot on the flash panels.  Then, with a big storm up stream, he found 10 inches in the cellar.  Year and a half later again the water and he feels the extra foot on the flashboard is a problem.  And, you can't trust them (ENEL), but why should we suffer.  Some folks had four or five feet of water in their homes.  He concluded that back in the 70s the flashboards were at only four feet, now five.  "I am going to move" was his conclusion.

Diane... I live at 102 New York (Rosemont) area.  City put up a berm. No flood in 30 years, until 2006.  Her basement now floods.  Diane notes that we need a $100,000 hydrological study for the Army Corps of Engineers to make changes to protect homes and there are more than a few homes.

Someone noted that the easy solution is to force ENEL to maintain the historic levels, rather than allowing the new levels.  They suggested we keep the water level down from March to June to drain out the land.

Tom Wirtennen, who lives on Brookside, read from the Guey-Lee letter.  In his words, the Alpha and the Omega of the problem.  His other point is that this power from our river is being sold to the Cape.

A woman representing Williamsburg Project One (Chelmsford) noted that in 2006 51 units were in the flood plain.  Then there was flooding and the town wanted them to evacuate those units, which they resisted, since residents are on fixed incomes and couldn't afford to evacuate.  They did have some problem with carp getting inside their berm, but they were thrown back into the river.  But, there is riverbank erosion, losing over 10 feet per storm of River Bank.  They may have to move sewer line, (more than $500,000).  Today they pay $50,000 in insurance.Her basement floods.  The latest map added 87 units and flood insurance went up about $223,000, PA.  That would be $44 per person per month.  If a foot is added, insurance will go to $500,000.

Tim said that he has been working this for the last four years.  There is no voice in Washington.Her basement floods.  Now they have talked to the Department of Education.  The FBI is involved.  Homeland Security involved.  EPA involved re raw sewage.  There are 400 hazardous waste sites in Lowell with 2 touching steams to the Merrimack.  ENEL does not recognize home elevations.  He notes that ENEL bought into Lowell 1983.  Further, he noted, the Lawrence dam is impacting South Lowell via the Concord River.

Jack Mitchell talked about raw sewage backing up in his basement.  He also noted that flood insurance is paid via escrow by banks, and with any control.  He then noted that then Senator Paul Tsongas made us a historic city, but the new dam would be a degradation of that template.

John Nappi--FERC is not an impartial party.  The game is not on the level.  ENAL committed to build in Sept.

A woman living on the Lowell/Tyngsboro line talked to soil erosion.  She notes you don't want to live in fear.  Further, she notes we didn't have this problem before.

At this point Mr McDermott had to terminated the meeting as he had another meeting.  He had had his ear for over an hour.

Later, in a smaller group, Joe Mendonça noted that when the dam was originally built (over 150 years ago) the owners got permission from the farmers upstream.  In some cases farmers were paid as compensation.  When the Mill owners added flash boards, they re-nogotiated with the farmers upstream.

I am not one who has much sympathy for those who move into the area under the approach or departure path of an airport, and then complain about it.  My take on ENEL and the Merrimack is that ENEL has come in and changed the conditions of the situation, upsetting a situation that has existed for decades.  ENEL should not be getting a free pass here.  As I started explaining this situation to my wife her sympathy was with ENEL, but quickly shifted to the home owners as I told their stories.  I am now in the corner of the home owners.

Regards  —  Cliff

  I wonder about how we are pronouncing the name of the Electric Company.  I hear E-nel.  From my time living outside Naples, Italy, (Parco Azzuro), where my electric company was ENEL—the ones who couldn't fix a hot ground that I was dealing with—the pronunciation was EN'L.  They stick in my mind for all the customers who never got an electric bill over three years, until they were ready to leave Italy and then they got the whole bill in one big slug, but I digress.
  His EMail is jerry_mcdermott AT scottbrown.senate.gov.
  The reason WCAP was interested, aside from its duty as a news agency, is the fact that WCAP transmitting antennas are in the area subject to being flooded.

8 comments:

kad barma said...

I'm with you on education on the issue leading to strong sympathy to the homeowners and other folks both upstream and (should the bladder burst) down. Indeed, changing the rules in the middle of the game is my impression of the whole thing. I am also disappointed with the manner in which the river and canals are maintained by ENEL (e.g. getting a backhoe to pick up garbage and debris from one side of the dam and just toss them over into the river on the other side).

That the proposal isn't being made with a figure to be paid for the privilege is the final sticking point with me. It's pure private profit, without any acknowledgment of the public interest.

Jack Mitchell said...

Some thoughts:
$$- Banks can hit a homeowner with flood insurance, forcing it upon them and taking the payment directly from the tax escrow. The time they give you to protest is not enough time to validate your claim. Some banks may even make a buck on the side, as they ram this down your throats. I have seen this happen. Watch out!

$$$- If Enel raises the water table, meaning groundwater, not just the visble water of the Merrimack; there will be an increase in what engineers call "ground water intrusion." The cracked pipes of Lowell's old sewer system will be surcharged with ground water running in, and then down to Duck Island. This will stress our already overburdened sewage treatment plant.

$$$$$- History helped save Lowell. Should Enel defile the historical dam, they degrade Lowell's historical integrity. We have all helped contribute to the upkeep of that historical intgrity. We all have a share in it.
Across Lowell, should that be damaged, we are all harmed. Progress here emerges through a prism of historical preservation. It is the compact we abide by.

If Enel breaks this, the progress is set free. The Historical National Park will be exposed to other interlopers looking for a buck. Think, skyscapers looming over our smoke stacks?

Private Profit, Public Risk.

Remember the Bank Bailout? The Gulf Oil Spill?

Private Profit, Public Risk.

Enel cashes the checks. Lowellians are burdened with the hidden costs. Not that they are really hidden. Those costs flow through the homes of hard working families.

Paul Belley said...

Thanks Cliff for your account of the meeting. I was unable to attend because as a truck driver it is stuff to take time off for a hour or two. I am very proud of the grassroots Flood Owners Group to bring this issue forward again at this meeting. We started this back in 2006 trying to educate ourselves and all the stakeholders in the city and the abuters to the river. We thought it was beavers, overdevlopment,nature, but it all pointed to Enel. Countless CC meetings Sub Comm. meetings, meetings with the Feds hoping to get this resolved. Kad barma..You should be disappointed in the manner the canals are mantainted they are not. Bridges over the canals are not. Money Money Money is what Enel is all about.

Look what happened to Lothens Hot Dog ( spelling looks wrong) in Lawrence. They have to close because the canalwalls are failing behind them. Jack ...Flood Insurance doubled since I moved in Rosemont Terr. 28yrs ago. I'm tired of hearing you brougt a home in a flood plain live with it. What we can't live with is a greedy company from Italy.

Mimi said...

Thanks Cliff. You make all wanna-be citizen journalist proud.

Great report.

Jeffrey C. Powers said...

"I wasn't at the meeting, and I'm not one of the residents who live upstream of the dam, but I am familiar with the site, and I have a little common sense. These neighbors who are getting flooded would have us believe that this company Enel is responsible for their flooding by increasing the top height of the wooden flashboards at the dam by one foot. Even if they did raise the height of the boards, it is absolutely ridiculous to say that this is the cause of flooding upstream. It is physically impossible. Isn't it a little more logical that people who own or built homes in a flood plain might experience some flooding during the past few years when we've had at least 2 hundred-year flood events? With all of the building north along the Merrimack River both in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, don't they think maybe there might be a significant increase in runoff and flooding? From what I understand, dams are subject to regulation by both FERC and the Army Corps of Engineers. If there was really a problem caused by Enel's dam in Lowell, why aren't they complaining? If there is any real evidence that this company is causing the flooding upstream, then why doesn't the City of Lowell put the proof on the table and put a stop to it. The answer is that they can't because they don't have any proof. Because it's not true. And the politicians know it, and they're just playing politics with this whole stupid issue to keep happy a small group of angry residents. How come they never bring up the fact that the same new dam technology Enel wants to put in Lowell was put in Lawrence a few years, and everybody is happy with it? I guess it's just a case of 'don't let the facts get in the way of a good story'."

Jeffrey C. Powers said...

"I wasn't at the meeting, and I'm not one of the residents who live upstream of the dam, but I am familiar with the site, and I have a little common sense. These neighbors who are getting flooded would have us believe that this company Enel is responsible for their flooding by increasing the top height of the wooden flashboards at the dam by one foot. Even if they did raise the height of the boards, it is absolutely ridiculous to say that this is the cause of flooding upstream. It is physically impossible. Isn't it a little more logical that people who own or built homes in a flood plain might experience some flooding during the past few years when we've had at least 2 hundred-year flood events? With all of the building north along the Merrimack River both in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, don't they think maybe there might be a significant increase in runoff and flooding? From what I understand, dams are subject to regulation by both FERC and the Army Corps of Engineers. If there was really a problem caused by Enel's dam in Lowell, why aren't they complaining? If there is any real evidence that this company is causing the flooding upstream, then why doesn't the City of Lowell put the proof on the table and put a stop to it. The answer is that they can't because they don't have any proof. Because it's not true. And the politicians know it, and they're just playing politics with this whole stupid issue to keep happy a small group of angry residents. How come they never bring up the fact that the same new dam technology Enel wants to put in Lowell was put in Lawrence a few years, and everybody is happy with it? I guess it's just a case of 'don't let the facts get in the way of a good story'."

C R Krieger said...

This is a test.  If it were a real comment it would say something.

Regards  —  Cliff

Anonymous said...

This is a second test.  This is a test of the Anonymous Commenting System.

Regards  —  Cliff