It has come to my attention that a renewed effort is being made, with the Mayor’s blessing; to get Hale Street renovated. The dream is to see a wide road with ample berms with a cement sidewalk on the north side that runs from the Quail Run neighborhood all the way to the residential areas that surround Turkey Hill Road on the West End.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite need. The road is low, subject to flooding, which in turn weakens and chews up the blacktop creating suspension-shattering potholes. And the worse part is the lack of safety. Pedestrians and bicyclists take their lives into their hands on a busy thoroughfare – with no room to let pass automobiles and heavy trucks; and if ducking into the security of the underbrush must be done – it is filled with marsh water, sink holes and poison ivy all the way up to the roadbed.
Back in 2002, the now-defunct N.A.I.D. (Newburyport Area Industrial Development) also had a “vision thing”. They wanted to expand the industrial park so it stretched all the way up close to Storey Avenue; and even persuaded the city to make that area zoned industrial in anticipation of their goals. The idea was to expand and reinforce the road to be able to handle heavy trucks. Included was a lovely 5-foot wide sidewalk on the North Side and even the possibility of an off-ramp onto Route 95. The abandoned roadbed instead of a bike trail today would be a wide access road that fed directly into Storey Avenue. It’s presence would have opened up whole forests for residential housing along its edges.
And they couldn’t do it!
They had the political will, they had the financing avenues and they had the economic muscle. And they failed. The reason was the cost, but it wasn’t the only thing. There were also too many legal and regulatory barriers they would have to hurdle over to finish it. And there was the land. You see, the Upper Little River Watershed that stretches from Hale Street to Storey Avenue and along Low Street sits on a clay base. Instead of water soaking into the ground and settling into a water table; it stays near the surface – and when heavy rains come – it has to go somewhere. Fortunately, nature has established wetlands to prevent utter flooding devastation by soaking up some of the water and preventing erosion.
N.A.I.D. approached the Secretary of Environmental affairs which thoroughly examined this area. That office generated EOEA Certificate 12684 which outlined what is required to be done to make the “vision-thing” occur. Basically, lands on either side that had easements on them would have to be changed in court – there were agricultural easements to the south and if done today, there would be the conservation easement on the Cooper North Pasture Preserve and they would have to take some land from UFP. This is not an easy thing – and the attempt could take years of litigation. But there is more, the entire Hale Street has to be elevated to include larger culverts. When, during extreme flooding events, all that water running off the clay base encounters Hale Street, regardless of the wetlands; the water will run over and weaken the roadbed. Larger culverts will allow the water to more easily pass under and into the Common Pasture beyond.
Regrettably, time has passed and now we have Mount Lavender. All the water running off the landfill has increased the volume of water passing downstream. And FEMA with their desire to re-write flood zone maps because of sea level rise is now demanding the height to be even more elevated.
This was why, when the city received PWED money in 2002 to actually do the improvements to Hale Street, then rank-and-file Tony Furnari in charge of the project, despairing the incredible cost of elevating the road, and purchasing easement properties; just paved the existing roadway with a thin new coat. The city actually took the rest of the money and went and paved most of High Street.
I hate to barrage citizens who want to improve the quality of life in Newburyport by giving us a safe and wide Hale Street. But I’m forced to throw ‘cold water’ on your plans by giving you all the facts. Can it be accomplished? Sure can! But the finished product may not be realized for as long as parking lots have been on the waterfront. And they are still there!
Have your meeting about Hale Street. It’ll be great to see your neighbors, meet new people and hear from the Mayor; but if you’re not into big groups; just stay home, curl up with the EOEA Certificate 12684 and read it.
Besides, no one likes to be seen crying in public.