A dozen residents of Hasenfus Circle met face to face with DPW officials this week to express their frustration with flooding issues. They gathered in freezing temperatures at the bottom of the hill where their homes lay victim to recent torrential rains. “I had almost two feet of water in my basement,” said Peter Urman. “I’ve owned this unit since 1990 and this never happened before.”
Situated at the bottom of a big hill, Hasenfus Circle is one of many areas affected by a very wet recent weather pattern and insufficient drainage systems. “We have a hodgepodge of drainage fixtures in the town that bottleneck in certain areas and then we have topology issues that make certain areas more prone to flooding,” said Director of Public Works Carys Lustig, who led the meeting.
Some residents believe the paving of Hillside Avenue and Union Street created an uneven pitch that forces water downhill to their homes. Assistant Director of Public Works Shane Mark promised residents he’d take a look after the meeting but added, “Even if we changed the pitch of the road there’s no guarantee it will change this from happening. When you have a high intensity rain event and you’re getting four to five inches in 90 minutes, I don’t care which way we pitch the road, flooding is going to happen.” He did add, though, that the DPW has some tools it can use to help things slow down. “We will make changes where we can,” said Mark.
Rich Pollack, who lives on nearby Crescent Street, believes there’s too much impervious ground or hard surface on both sides of Hillside that force the water downward. “Increasingly, people are paving,” Pollack said, referring to a parking lot nearby.
And what about the impact of new development and the pitch of driveways and driveway aprons for new houses? “What I can tell you is that our storm water bylaw doesn’t address these issues. It simply doesn’t,” said Building Commissioner Joe Prondak. “A lot of these new houses that get built, they raise the grade, they bound the whole property up so that water that used to go across that property now goes around it,“ Prondak said. He’s hoping a new stormwater bylaw committee will help facilitate changes he can then enforce.
Another problem is the water has no place to go when the Charles River and other streams are at capacity. The DPW is looking for new spaces where water could be stored during storms until it can be redirected. “We are working with Conservation to look at areas around town, brooks and streams that have become overgrown over the years and trying to reclaim them as conventional water storage areas before they develop ecosystems and are too delicate to touch,” said Assistant Town Engineer Justin Savignano.
Lustig explained the town just received funding for a study to look at all drainage structures, how they interact with each other and how they can make improvements to increase capacity. She’s hoping a new drain master plan will lead to adding pipes and creating more brooks and culverts to collect water.
In the meantime, officials toured Urman’s house and yard and made some short-term recommendations, including putting in a basement bulkhead. It’s a small measure that could make a difference. Building and public works officials also can make recommendations about the setup of basement windows, basement doors, and where to place sump pumps.
Of course bigger, more expensive townwide solutions are easier said than done. “We are doing a storm drain project now and it’s costing $1,000 per foot,” said Lustig.
“Well,” responded one resident, “you probably collect more than that in taxes each year from all of us on this street!”
As the saying goes, desperate times require desperate measures. Urman went so far as to hire a private engineer to advise him on ways to prevent his flooding. According to his neighbor, Nadia Zabarskaya, the expert said, “You can put in whatever you want but until you fix the problems up the hill, nothing will work.”