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Quincy’s flood-control projects get mixed reviews

Residents complain the Faxon Field track, which is not part of Quincy’s flood-control project, still floods during storms.

Chris Chetwynd

Residents complain the Faxon Field track, which is not part of Quincy’s flood-control project, still floods during storms.

Chris Chetwynd wasn’t surprised when he saw the water rising in his Russell Park neighborhood during a downpour in May, but he knew some others would be, so he pulled out his camera.

The photographs he took on that rainy Thursday show cars with water up to their tire tops in the parking lot behind Quincy High School. Other cars were traveling down a Coddington Street that looked more like a river.

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Chetwynd posted the photos on Facebook, with the hope that they’d make others as angry as he.

“My post on Facebook was to say, ‘All you people who were promised better flood relief — they lied to you, point- blank,’ ” Chetwynd said. “They have no measurement of how much flood relief they improved or didn’t improve.”

Chetwynd has railed against the city’s flood-control efforts for some time, with complaints ranging from flooding at the Faxon Field track to what he sees as wasteful spending on more than $10 million in flood-relief projects.

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Many of his neighbors and even some city officials have also become restless over the pace of improvement.

But city-hired engineers point out that many projects haven’t even begun, and they’re urging patience. And project supporters either say they’re already seeing progress, or are willing to reserve judgment until all the pipes, pumps, and gates are in place.

If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Quincy does have a flooding problem.

“We’re a city between a high elevation and the ocean. Flooding is something that comes naturally, literally, to Quincy,” said City Councilor Brian Palmucci, whose West Quincy ward has been susceptible to flooding from the Furnace Brook for decades.

But all around Quincy, it isn’t unusual for residents to endure squishy yards or wet basements. The defining moment was the deluge of March 2010. In many parts of the city, back-to-back downpours oversaturated the ground, overwhelming pipes and brooks. In West Quincy, many backyards turned into fenced-in swimming pools, and first-floor living rooms were swamped with up to four feet of water.

Near the new Quincy High School, the Broad Street Tide Gate has been replaced, along with several drainage pipes in the area, but nearby residents are giving Quincy’s flood-control efforts mixed reviews.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Near the new Quincy High School, the Broad Street Tide Gate has been replaced, along with several drainage pipes in the area, but nearby residents are giving Quincy’s flood-control efforts mixed reviews.

Even in less cataclysmic weather, high tides combine with rain and wind to create flooding along the coast, and in neighborhoods adjacent to marshlands with generally low topography, standing water can take hours to subside.

In 2011, the city responded with a $10 million appropriation for flood relief through the city’s $25.4 million Capital Improvement Plan. Two years into the process, consultant Joseph Shea said, people can already see some improvement and will see even more by next year.

Neighbors “will continue to see incremental improvements,” said Shea, an engineer at Woodard & Curran. “There is no denying that each of these projects has significant benefit.”

Overall, there are 17 flood projects in the capital plan. Many are only partially complete. Others are waiting for additional federal funding, and several are still in the permitting or construction phase.

Some West Quincy residents have noticed the benefits, though their praise is tempered.

“What’s changed is rather than certain neighborhoods flooding every time there is rain, now they flood less,” Palmucci said.

An agreement with Milton that diverts water from Cunningham Pond has reduced the volume of storm water that enters limited underground pipes — and subsequently neighborhoods — Palmucci said.

A pipe realignment on Centre Street, the cleaning of storm drains, and the clearing the Furnace Brook have also contributed to better flood control.

Russell Park resident Chris Chetwynd took this picture of a flooded Quincy High parking lot this past May.

Chris Chetwynd

Russell Park resident Chris Chetwynd took this picture of a flooded Quincy High parking lot this past May.

“There is no silver bullet that will solve every neighborhood flood problem,’’ Palmucci said. “But what we’ve put together in the Capital Improvement Plan and [how the] city does business with cleaning storm drains and agreements with Milton and [Massachusetts Department of Transportation], it’s allowing us to address many neighborhoods’ flooding issues. . . . We’re taking away the repeated, every week flooding that folks were having.”

Alrick Road resident Russell Robbs has seen a difference. The 18-year Quincy resident can still remember the 2010 storm, when the water was chest high.

“It’s gotten so much better, and all indications that what they are doing, including putting new flood gates in and doing more cleaning in the piping and stuff like that, it’s helped tremendously,” Robbs said.

Near the new Quincy High School, there was less consensus.

John Norton of Edgewood Circle said recent storms have shown that flooding is just as bad as before. As recently as last week, his street was under water yet again.

With the replacement of the Broad Street tide gate and several drainage pipes in the area, neighbors expected better results.

“It may have gotten worse,” Norton said. “The new parking lot for the high school was starting to flood out, too [in May]. . . . I would have to say what they did wasn’t much value.”

Norton conceded that his house, described by others as being in a topographical bowl, floods a lot. Yet during the May storm, he said, his sump pumps were working four hours straight, and his entire street was submerged in the rain.

School Committee member David McCarthy also said flooding in the area has not improved.

“We’ve never had the back of the high school parking lot flood, and [I saw] it come up from the wetlands,” McCarthy said. “. . . Over the next few years, those drains will fill up with silt . . . and they won’t be able to keep up with everything, and the flooding will just increase as the years go on.”

McCarthy, like Chetwynd, also took issue with Faxon Field. During the planning stages, both mentioned flooding as a primary concern, and McCarthy said that recent downpours resulted in water pooling in the track for an hour before it could seep through the drainage.

Shea, however, said the track, which is not part of the Capital Improvement Plan, was working as it should, and retained the storm water until the pipes could handle it.

“It’s an improvement over a sloppy, dirty field. Now it’s an engineered, designed system with pipes to direct water to certain locations,” he said.

As for neighborhood flooding, the projects are intended to reduce the duration and impact of the flooding. Eliminating it is “not in the cards,” Shea said.

“We have to encourage everybody to be patient,” Shea said. “. . . I would hope none of the homeowners there would believe the situation is worse. I would hope none would believe it’s not improved. We’ve been out there and seen how the puddling goes down. We’ve seen events that previously would have flooded out Southern Artery and a portion of Russell Park, and now they don’t.”

Ward 1 Councilor Margaret Laforest said she doesn’t know if the completed projects were having much impact, but her threshold for success was lower than some.

“You’re not going to cure the flooding, you’re going to reduce it. The low-lying coastal areas will always be subject to coastal flooding,’’ she said.

The idea is to shift flood waters “to the outfall as opposed to being in the backyards and basements.”

Councilor-at-Large Doug Gutro also cautioned those who want to will away all the water.

When Quincy gets a microburst storm, nearly everything floods, he said, and looking at photos taken a minute or two after the storm doesn’t do the system or city justice.

The rain likely isn’t going anywhere, either. According to a 2012 Environment America Research & Policy Center analysis, New England has seen more extreme weather events — both the intensity and duration of storms — than any part of the country over the past 60 years.

“That’s just the reality, it doesn’t matter what the cause is,’’ Gutro said. “You’ve got to be more adaptable to some of that.”

Jesscia Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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