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In Watergate, Deep Throat famously told reporter Bob Woodward to “Follow the money.” In hydrology, we say, “Follow the water.”
The Building Committee for Northeast Metro Tech (NEMT) wants to build a new school with a half-mile access road and large parking lot in 29 acres of forest and wetlands high above the existing school. While we are in favor of a new school, putting it at this location (C-3) will not only destroy much of the forest and degrade fragile wetlands, but will lead to a significant increase in flooding in June Circle, a cul-de-sac of seven houses off Farm Street.
NEMT recently released a statement entitled “Northeast Metro Tech Responds to Project Opponents and Misinformation.” While this statement takes great pride in moving the proposed “driveway” (actually, a 30-foot-wide, two-lane access road) slightly away from the wetlands, it makes no mention of a much more important issue: stormwater runoff.
Specifically, where will all the water from rain and snow falling on new rooftops and paved areas go? Currently the trees and soil act as natural sponges, collecting and filtering rainfall and slowly releasing it to groundwater and wetlands. However, the new development would add over six acres of impervious surfaces that do not allow rainwater and snowmelt to infiltrate into the ground. Instead, this water will run over these surfaces, picking up and carrying contaminants, and flow out of drains from the proposed access road and parking lot.
A diagram in the NEMT stormwater report shows that all runoff from the proposed parking lot, 900 feet of the access road, and part of the school roof will flow into the largest wetland, which lies near Farm Street in the southern part of the project site. This wetland is supposed to be protected by the Wetland Protection Act.
The wetland discharges into a small stream leading to a 1-foot-diameter drainpipe in June Circle. From there, the drainpipe passes under June Circle and joins a larger, 3-foot-diameter drainpipe that contains water from a stream flowing from the west side of Farm Street. The larger drainpipe continues north under two more neighborhoods and under Wakefield Memorial High School and Woodville School before discharging into the Mill River, a tributary of the Saugus River.
With the added runoff from the proposed Metro Tech to the wetland, flow to the 1-foot drainpipe will substantially increase. The obvious question to ask is whether this small drainpipe can safely handle this additional flow. Specifically, what storm sizes will result in water overflowing the drainpipe and flooding June Circle? The NEMT stormwater report avoids answering these questions by setting the opening of the 1-foot drainpipe on June Circle as the western boundary of the stormwater model. In other words, the water reaches this drainpipe and magically disappears!
But the water does not disappear. Even without the added runoff from the proposed Metro Tech, several June Circle houses already have water problems. According to Bob Brooks of 7 June Circle, “Without a sump pump, I would have a swimming pool in my basement.” His neighbor, Joan Dullea of 5 June Circle, says she also runs her sump pump constantly. On several occasions, Brooks asked project team members who is responsible for the amount of water that enters the wetland next to June Circle. According to Brooks, they told him “Our responsibility ends at the property. You will have to talk to your town engineer.”
A storm that occurred on March 22, 2001, provides a good example of the current flood risk to June Circle. This 5.5-inch rainstorm caused the drainpipe to overflow onto the backyard of 5 June Circle and damage the house foundation, backyard, and driveway. That damage was significant enough for Joan Dullea, the property owner, to apply for, and receive, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to cover the costs of repair.
The NEMT stormwater plan assumes a certain amount of storage in the wetland before it discharges into the stream and reaches the 1-foot drainpipe. The plan estimates that the flowrate at the entrance to the drainpipe will reach nearly 3,000 gallons per minute (gpm) for a 25-year storm (6.37 inches of rain) and, for a 100-year storm, nearly 20,000 gpm! However, as evidenced by the storm in March 2001, the drainpipe overflowed with less than a 25-year storm.
Moreover, for a 100-year storm, the NEMT plan estimates that the water elevation in the wetland will reach a peak of 305 feet above sea level, which is well above (an impossible 180 feet above!) the elevation of the wetland when full. Therefore, for the 100-year storm and probably for much smaller storms, water will flow out of the wetland, bypassing the stream, and flow into June Circle.
You might think that the solution is to enlarge the 1-foot drainpipe. However, the entire length of the drainpipes, both the 1-foot drainpipe under June Circle and the 3-foot drainpipe that it empties into, would need to be enlarged to handle the increases in runoff from a hilltop Metro Tech. Can you imagine the cost and disruption of installing new pipe all the way from June Circle to the Mill River?
The other solution, apparently one that Metro Tech finds acceptable, is to leave it to the June Circle residents to deal with water problems that the new school will create. However, Bob Brooks recently spoke to his insurance agent regarding potential water issues. The agent told him that he does not live in a flood zone and, if any of the land in the project area (i.e., the hilltop forest) is altered and results in flood damage to private property, liability rests with the project team. The same liability also applies to any property damage caused by blasting.
By following the water from the hilltop to June Circle, it is clear that the proposed Metro Tech will increase flooding in this Wakefield neighborhood. Putting fellow residents at such risk should not be acceptable to anyone, especially when there is a good alternative site beside the existing school.
Douglas Heath, MS, Hydrogeologist
Alison Simcox, MS, PhD, Environmental Engineer
Christine Rioux, MS, PhD, Environmental Scientist
Bob Brooks, June Circle resident and abutter
Joan Dullea, June Circle resident and abutter