The Martin Luther King Day storm was relatively short lived and not too disruptive to our daily lives, but it brought high winds and a storm surge that provided a clear demonstration of how vulnerable we are to storms. While the surge was less than two feet, it coincided with a high tide that sent waves crashing into some of our more vulnerable parts of town.
Ocean Street sustained the greatest amount of damage. A section of the seawall and sidewalk near Black Beach collapsed. A section of road at White Beach also was severely damaged. Ocean Street is certainly our most vulnerable road and every year sections of it either get buried in sand or undermined. Protecting the roadway into the future will be very challenging as the ocean wants to reclaim the salt marsh that lies on the other side of the road.
West or “Stinky” Beach on Harbor Street is also extremely vulnerable. The seawall along the low-lying area held this time though the surf was crashing over it and did some undermining here as well. A section of the seawall was re-built recently. It is likely that the remaining sections will need to be rebuilt and the question of increasing the height of the seawall remains. This is also one area where the train tracks are very close to sea level in Manchester. (Large sections of the MBTA Rockport line are likely to be impassable as sea levels and storm surges rise posing a whole other set of challenges.)
Besides losing sand that will naturally return to the beach, the revetment at Singing Beach sustained minor damage. We will need to reposition some of the large boulders that make up the revetment and replace the choke stone that is wedged in between the larger stone. It is not hard to imagine the entire revetment being destroyed in a bigger storm with waves reaching to the homes that sit behind it.
We came close to losing the Rotunda at Tuck’s Point. The pier, walkway and the Rotunda’s decking and benches were all underwater. Another foot or so of water could well have had enough force to sweep the Rotunda off its pilings. The pilings are on their last legs as old age has taken its toll. The substructure needs to be rebuilt. When we do this the Army Corp will require that the Rotunda be elevated nine feet or so. This means the pier and walkway will need to tie into the higher knoll next to the existing landing. The new retaining wall at the beach area was undermined and will need to be repaired even though it was designed to withstand this type of event. It is hard to fully appreciate the force of the ocean.
We will develop engineering plans for the renovation of the Rotunda targeting the new construction in the fall of 2023 assuming we can secure the needed funding. It will not be cheap – cost could run in the $4 million range. The Rotunda project along with the need for new athletic fields at Sweeney and at the old burn dump on Pine Street could be funded in large part by new bonds paid for by the Community Preservation surcharge. Instead of doing a debt exclusion vote, we might want to consider approving an increase in the Community Preservation surcharge which would have the benefit of generating additional state matching dollars.
We face many significant challenges related to bigger storms. This last storm provided a small example of just some of our vulnerabilities. There will be a need for in-depth community discussions on how best to be more resilient to the damages that could result from surging seas and other threats. And determining how we should pay for the efforts needed to be better protected must be part of these discussions. We did not get the foot plus of snow that all the rain from this last storm could have brought had it been a bit colder but we did get a taste of the power the sea can wield.