"It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as he and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey visited Haverhill and other flood-threatened Merrimack River Valley cities this morning, then traveled to the state-of-the-art Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant at the mouth of Boston Harbor for presidential-quality photo ops. The point was that things were going swimmingly at Deer Island, but serious problems lay ahead inland as the region's major rivers continued to rise ominously, with yet more rain in the forecast. His eyes looked sad and careworn, but Governor Mitt was definitely at the helm and ready to assume responsibility. Not-my-fault/Bush's-fault Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco need not apply. We like the cut of our Governor's jib. Unlike the usual suspects -- the local network affiliates, who have better things to amuse us with, like Katie Couric in the morning and soaps in the afternoon -- New England Cable News has been on the case non-stop since the rain started to fall these many days ago. (Screen shot from NECN)
"It's already the third worst flooding event in the history of the Merrimack Valley," reports meteorologist extraordinaire Matt Noyes of Boston's superb, all-floods-all-the-time New England Cable News, the station of choice for breaking area news. The waters are still rising, expected to crest early tomorrow morning between 2 and 3 o'clock. "It's the biggest since 1936," said Haverhill Mayor Fiorentini, referring to the benchmark flood in these parts. Goomp was on the scene in Haverhill way back then, checking out the family firm on River Street and documenting conditions with his then state-of-the-art 8mm movie camera, when "the sewage ran raw into the river every day":
I well remember the 1936 flood in Haverhill. I was home from Governor Dummer Academy on spring vacation. There were outboards going along Merrimac Street and Post Office Square. We took a boat from higher ground and entered C.F. Jameson & Co. [the family firm] through a window six feet above the street.
The treatment plant was built the next year. You can't imagine how dirty the river was in those days. The waste from Concord, Manchester, Nashua, Lowell, Lawrence all came through to the ocean in Newburyport.
Fortunately for us, the most water we had to walk through was a few inches in our cellar, which seemed huge at the time but has now receded, thanks in no small part to Tuck's ingenuity, together with a break in the weather. There's flooding, too, near Goomp's neck of the woods, in York Beach, Maine, but in the higher ground he commands at Camelot-by-the-Sea in York Harbor, all is well.
Now the sewage has hit the fan once more, as the Boston Herald reports:
The worsening flooding after four days of relentless rain is being called the worst in New England over the last 70 years. Hundreds of people are hunkering down in shelters or are in the process of evacuating -- some by boat -- across the North Shore and Merrimack Valley.
Untreated sewage is flowing in the Merrimack River from a burst pipe in Haverhill at a rate of roughly 35 million gallons a day, officials said. The loss of power at a Lawrence treatment plant threatens to release some 100 million additional gallons a day.
Romney declared a state of emergency yesterday, activating the National Guard and other state services to help local officials respond to the torrential rain that hasn’t let up since Friday. Romney said he anticipated the state would reach the threshold of $7 million in damage to apply for federal aid. No deaths or injuries had been reported by early today in Massachusetts, state officials said.
"We've been surprised about some of the places that flooded," Governor Romney said in one of his press conferences today, citing an underground stream in Haverhill "we didn't even know about" that had the effect of eroding the surrounding soil and undermining something or other -- a bridge or a segment of road? Gotta try to find out more about that. This whole thing resonates with the old saw about those who do not study history. Here's an example of how quickly they forget, with a punchline you wouldn't expect to hear on this blog:
"There's a 30-foot wall standing between downtown Haverhill and its ambitious plans to spawn a renaissance on the banks of the Merrimack River," went an Eagle Tribune article of September 2004:
The flood wall was built by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1937 and 1938 to protect downtown Haverhill from the Merrimack, which spilled its banks and flooded the city in 1936 and to a lesser extent again in 1938.
The discussion came as Grabauskas, Fiorentini and state Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, talked about ways to connect riverside properties -- such as the Merrimack Valley Regional Transportation Authority bus station -- to the flood wall or to a proposed "Newburyport-style" riverside boardwalk.
"There is no question that the seawall is a major impediment to viewing the river and using it for recreational purposes," Fiorentini said. "Of course, it's possible to take down the wall, but it might flood the city. I am skeptical that we could ever obtain permission to knock down the flood wall and I am certain that we could not obtain permission quickly."
Here's the unanticipated punchline: Sometimes bureaucratic sluggishness works out for the best. What if they had torn down the wall to make way for dewy-eyed river views? We shudder to think and give the final word to our weatherman of choice, Matt Noyes of NECN, whose historical sense is alive and well:
Now there is a lot more money invested into the riverbanks [what with condos and such] as opposed to the earlier days when mills and related businesses [our own family firm] lined the banks of the Merrimack.
You go, Matt!