Scituate residents who live near the waterfront packed the Board of Selectmen’s meeting last Tuesday, demanding fixes to sea walls with money that officials said they just do not have.
The week after a blizzard churned the ocean along Scituate’s shores, residents said that there is not enough being done to protect the coast, and this most recent storm is only the latest reminder.
“The town has to have some money for these sea walls,” said David Ball, a member of the Scituate Seawall Committee. “They are bad and getting worse. People’s lives are at stake with a wall failure. . . . We saw that happen in 2010.” After a sea wall breached during a storm that year, two homes went up in flames.
Town officials appropriate approximately $200,000 annually for shoreline protection through a $2.2 million override passed in 2011, and have committed thousands more in capital budgets in each of the past four years.
But a group of residents has organized a citizens petition to appear on the April Town Meeting warrant that would allocate an additional $300,000 for sea wall fixes for this year.
“We’re talking about having a fund available from now on of $500,000: $300,000 from the citizens article or a request the from sea wall committee, plus $200,000,” Ball said. “We feel $500,000 is a fairly conservative amount of money given the scope of the problem.”
Concrete sea wall fixes typically cost $1,000 to $2,000 a foot. On Scituate’s 27 miles of coastline, there are more than 9 miles of public and private sea walls, most of which are in fair or poor condition.
This latest storm has added to those woes, with damage estimates already exceeding $1 million.
The Scituate Seawall Committee is also going through the Capital Planning Committee process to get the additional $300,000, but said the citizens petition is a back-up plan in case the request fails.
The warrant is not clear on where that additional $300,000 would come from, but officials said if the article passes, it would have to come from both the town and school budgets.
“It’s going to come out of the school and out of the town department, so now the schools are going to have to come up with $200,000 of cuts and the town $100,000 of cuts to fund the extra $300,000 for sea walls,” said Tony Vegnani, acting chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “We don’t have an infinite pot of money.”
But Vegnani said sea wall fixes are on the agenda, and the board has showed it is sympathetic to coastal problems.
During the past three to four years, the town has dedicated more than $2 million to sea wall repair, Vegnani said, which included override funding, lighthouse fixes from the Community Preservation Committee, and $500,000 in the capital budget.
The town also has begun discussions to obtain some money from the state. Sea wall fixes are “not going to happen as quickly as we would like from local funding,” Vegnani said. “It has to come from somewhere else. That’s what we pitched to the governor. We have issues here that we need help with.”
Ball rejected the claim that the money would have to come from the school or town’s budget, and pointed to the money spent on such things as energy-saving measures and studies on economic growth.
According to Selectman John Danehey, taxpayers will ultimately decide how their money will be spent.
“Hard decisions are being made . . . sometimes you like them and like us, sometimes you don’t and you hate us. We’re trying to make those tough decisions,” he said.