WESTFIELD – The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) performed an annual inspection of the Little River Levee on April 21, meeting members of the Flood Control Commission, Conservation, Department of Public Works and city councilors at the site.
Flood Control chairman Albert G. Giguere, Jr. said the inspection would likely fail to meet the ACE standards again this year, considering the levee has suffered additional erosion.
Giguere said the big problem is two culverts under the levee intended to prevent backflow from the river flooding the neighborhood are corroded and need to be replaced. “The bottom of the culverts are rotted out, as are the metal plates to prevent water from coming back to the city,” he said. Giguere said they discovered the deterioration on the culverts four years ago.
Giguere said the city has a local cooperation agreement with the ACE, which built the levee in 1955 and rebuilt it after a flood in 1983 when the section collapsed during a flood, to maintain the levee to a certain standard, which has not been achieved.
Currently, the commission is looking to take down seven mostly dead trees on the levee and clear debris in order to prepare for that work to be done. He said one tree fell during a storm on Dec. 25, root ball and all, causing about 5 more feet of erosion on the river side of the levee. A Notice of Intent prepared by Tighe and Bond for the tree clearing will be going to the Conservation Commission at the end of the month.
Flood Control has also asked the mayor for an appropriation of $120,000 to purchase six private parcels of private land along the levee upstream to approximately Amelia Park, in order to prepare for reconstruction work. Giguere said they have not yet heard back on the appropriation.
“The levee has to get fixed, we all know it. God forbid, we have a serious flood and the levee fails,” Giguere said, adding that he wasn’t confident the levee would sustain a major storm.
“Hopefully time is on our side, we get the money we need, and start rehabilitation of the two culverts. Hopefully, Mother Nature and time are on our side.”
“We’re trying to correct multiple decades of deferred maintenance,” Giguere said.
The Little River Levee is only one of the projects being overseen by the all-volunteer Flood Control Commission. For the last several years, they have also been working with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on analysis and recommendations for rehabilitation of the Powder Mill and Armbrook dams.
Giguere said the NRCS recommendations will bring the dams up to safety and performance standards, and have them last for another 50 years. If authorized, the bulk of the work will be paid for by federal funds, however, the city will also have to contribute. “It’s not easy to do, with $5-6 million needed between the two projects,” he said.
At a Flood Control meeting April 21, Giguere reviewed the status of some of the projects. He said in their budget request, they also asked for a part-time employee to help. The commission made the request last year, and the Mayor asked them to put that aside until this year. “There are a lot of odds and ends, things to be dealt with once we get going on Powdermill and Armbrook,” he said.
Commission member Jack Leary agreed “We need someone to handle expenses, and be in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers. There are multiple jobs they can do,” Leary said.
Giguere, who works as a court officer for the Commonwealth, said he appreciated that the engineering department was doing a lot of the work for the commission, which has no address and no telephone, forcing him to use his personal supplies and cell phone for flood control business.
Giguere also read with emotion the resignation letters of two decades-long members of the Flood Control Commission, Henry Warchol and Barry Plumley, whom he referred to as his mentors.
“For decades I have been proud to serve on this important commission. One of the highlights of my life,” wrote Warchol, adding that water issues were a lifelong interest of his. “Together we have accomplished a great deal. It is my hope a new generation will heed the call,” he wrote.
“This is a hard message for me to write, but it’s time for me to resign and let someone younger get involved,” wrote Plumley, adding that Giguere was doing “such a good job as chairman.”
Giguere said Plumley was vice chair of the commission for quite a while. “We went on many a trip – took one to Boston even. Both of these gentlemen have paid their dues on this commission. Without their support, I couldn’t have done anything these last few years,” he said.