SHIRLEY — While many in the area may have been unfamiliar with the destructive power flood waters can have on their homes before rain storms dumped eight inches of rain on New England from March 14 to 16 — closing schools, swelling rivers and turning many basements into small ponds — the problem is nothing new to the residents of Harvard Road.
Neighbors who live along the road brought complaints about flooding on the properties to selectmen a couple of weeks ago, before the late-winter storms. And records show they’ve made similar complaints in years past.
Three years ago, residents and town officials believed the cause of the flooded yards and basements was site construction at Apple Orchard Estates, a new subdivision off Lancaster Road. Resident Mary Rice said she and her neighbors were told at the time the water problem would go away when heavy excavation was over, but it did not.
At the March 18 Planning Board meeting, board member John Rounds presented an alternative explanation for the watery problem. He said Harvard Road’s water problems are historic and can be traced to drainage issues that date to the 1970’s. It’s a matter of record, he said.
Aerial photos show a water-cut path from a high point off Lancaster Road to low-lying areas on Harvard Road and playing fields behind the Lura A. White School. A culvert was installed and a swale — a depression used to curb flooding — was constructed, but it may have broken down, he said, and topography of the area has changed.
Water collected in a natural retention pond on one of the affected properties, he said, but that declivity was filled in and is now level lawn. Trees were cut in one area, planted in another. Rounds said its all part of the big picture and should be assessed that way.
Chairman Jonathan Greeno said no matter what caused the problem or how far back it goes, the issue now is how to fix it
When Harvard Road was flooded several weeks ago, before a monster rain storm put properties all over town in the same situation, Apple Orchards was again eyed as the culprit. Construction at the development is poised to ramp up, with four more phases to go. The full plan for the area calls for over 100 houses, with about 30 completed so far.
The development had troubles from the start, such as cleaning up toxic soil from an old apple orchard on site. Permit and compliance issues led to strict town oversight. Then, the real estate market collapsed with just a handful of houses up and occupied. There were drainage issues, but they were remedied, according to the original developer, Steve Goodman, who bought the property and started the permit process years before breaking ground.
Today, the owner of Apple Orchards is a Connecticut company called MUUS Acquisitions, Goodman said, and he works for Residential Realty Management as the sub-division’s project manager. The construction goals are the same and progress is steady, he said. Roads are paved. Sewer and drainage hookups are in, he said, contradicting what Harvard Road neighbors have said.
“We have not ignored problems” when they came up, he said. And in this case, the company pledged to help and has even offered heavy equipment and operator hours free of charge to clear out and rebuild the drainage measures that have failed because of inattention.
“We didn’t cause that,” Goodman said.
At the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, March 22, Chairman Andy Deveau said old maps show an easement on that property, a large parcel he called the Sears’ land. The easement is not on current maps. Resident Ward Baxter volunteered to research the records to track it down, he said.
Goodman and an engineer with knowledge of the project’s drainage system came to the Planning Board last Thursday night to answer questions.
“We will do what we can, but we are not responsible” for water problems on Harvard Road, he said. But they’re willing to work with the town to help solve them.
The town, for its part, will be more vigilant as construction continues. With a licensed site professional required by the permit, a clerk of the works was appointed by the planning board. Former DPW director Joe Lynch was the go-between until his position was eliminated due to the town’s budget crisis. Now, the selectmen have a new set-up that splits Lynch’s former duties. Building inspector Butch Farrar was designated as liaison, to meet with the clerk. “They talk the same language,” Selectman Enrico Cappucci said. Town Administrator Kyle Keady will coordinate regular meetings with the developer, engineers and others to keep tabs on the project. The two town employees will report back to the selectmen.
Meanwhile, there’s hope for Harvard Road. Come June or July, when the ground dries out and with the property owner’s permission, work on a new drainage swale will begin. The selectmen said that that will hopefully solve the problem and it won’t happen again.