Hadley officials ponder new levee for flood-risk protection

  • A family takes a stroll on the Connecticut River levee in Hadley, March 8. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2021 11:53:09 AM

HADLEY — Before a decision is made to pursue construction of a 1.4-mile-long levee system on Bay Road to protect the town center against 100-year floods from the Connecticut River, engineering consultants anticipate giving town officials more information about the project and the condition of the existing flood control system.

As soon as annual Town Meeting later this month, residents could be asked to spend $150,000 so Woodard & Curran engineering consultants of Andover can evaluate options, engage the public and develop a plan and cost estimates for what could be a multimillion-dollar construction project, as well as expensive repairs to existing levees.

Rich Niles, project manager with Woodard and Curran, told the Select Board last week that the ongoing study is helping the town understand the existing conditions and whether the dike built in 1928, along with the former rail bed that is now the Norwottuck Rail Trail, will be sufficient to protect properties. A new levee could supplement these.

“This would provide significant flood-risk protection and potentially significant economic benefit for properties that have insurance now,” Niles said.

“The problem is we don’t have a conceptual cost yet,” Niles said.

The objective is to make sure that the town center meets protection standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If this is not the case, property owners would be required to get flood insurance.

The current flood control system includes the 1.7 miles of earthen levee embankment along the Connecticut River north of West Street, running from the intersection of Rocky Hill Road and River Drive to the Honey Pot section of town, and an additional 1.5 miles of the Norwottuck Rail Trail that parallels Route 9.

The existing system protects 113 buildings and properties with an estimated value of $11.5 million, while the new project could shield from flooding 196 buildings with an estimated value of $36.5 million, including gas stations on Route 9 and Hopkins Academy.

Niles said some of the issues with the dike are minor, such as animal burrows. Others are more significant, including seepage and stability for the dike, which is too tall and narrow and may need expensive structural reinforcements.

Repairs are also complicated, especially for the berm on which the rail trail sits. There, improvements might include removing trees and roots, thus changing the character of the popular trail for walkers and bikers.

Originally built in 1928, the dike was damaged and extensively repaired following the Great Flood of 1936 and the Hurricane of 1938, and has been improved at times by the Army Corps of Engineers. In 2009, a crack was found in a section of the dike and, during repairs, a section collapsed and was rebuilt. That led to the complete evaluation that began in 2014 and the effort to be recertified by FEMA.

Select Board member Joyce Chunglo said the town can’t neglect the flood control system and should explore whether the Legislature can help Hadley pay for repairs or a new levee.

In addition to the costs of the work, the town is likely to face time-consuming and expensive permitting that will include state and federal Army Corps of Engineers oversight, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regulations and Conservation Commission review.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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