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State to provide $17 million for sea wall and dam repairs

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 17, 2013 02:54 PM

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With $17 million of state funds on the way, South Shore legislators have begun mapping out a strategy to repair sea walls and dams.

A bill to assist sea wall and dam repairs across the state was signed into law by the governor on Jan. 10, and the money is expected to be available to cities and towns as early as Jan. 30.

According to a release, the legislation will provide funding for repair or remove unsafe infrastructure and improve reporting to deal with problems. For waterfront communities such as Quincy, Marshfield, Scituate, Weymouth, and Hingham, the sea wall provisions are of greatest interest.

“These sea walls need to be reevaluated and maintained,” said State Representative Tackey Chan (D-Quincy). “Given the fact that these are not cheap…we thought it was a good opportunity at the state level to create opportunities for organizations and towns to get some assistance to maintaining these important coastal defenses.”

The $17 million revolving fund will be overseen by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and will help communities as well as private sea wall and dam owners who can't finance these repairs out of their own budgets.

Given the number of severe storms as of late, such help is crucial, said State Representative Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy).

“Our coastal defenses are very important in protecting both our residents and our environment from major storms,” Mariano said in a release. “The Commonwealth continues to face increased risks from more intense and frequent storms, such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and this new law will make us better prepared to create strategies to prevent floods and enhance coastal zone management.”

The money would be doled out through loans and grants, and municipalities can also issue bonds for these types of projects.

Coastal infrastructure will subsequently receive 50 percent of the funds in the budget, with the other half to go to repairing dams throughout the commonwealth.

According to Representative Jim Cantwell (D-Marshfield), getting the support for this bill was extremely difficult.

“Four years ago, I filed the first legislation to help cities and towns do sea wall repairs or things similar…with all the other needs, we weren’t able to get a critical number of support,” Cantwell said.

Yet after compiling a working group of people from the governor’s office, environmental affairs, administrative finance and the treasurer’s office, Cantwell had a new plan.

“What made this effort successful was we realized we had a common interest with people who needed funds for dam repair,” Cantwell said. “Combining those two public interests … did give us a critical mass of supporters that helped us prevail.”

The money will come from a defunct trust that used to provide loans for water treatment renovations. Currently, there is $17 million sitting in the account from loans that have been repaid. Cantwell estimates that another $3 million is outstanding and could be collected.

“I met with people in State Environmental Affairs [office], who are already working on how to prioritize where the funds go,” Cantwell said. “Ideally we’d want to spread around the fund as best we can to as many communities as possible.”

Cantwell estimates that all of the $17 million will be used within this budget cycle. Already he is working on where future funding may come from.

“In April I have the House budget, where I plan to work with Tackey [Chan] and others to increase expenditures for the fund,” Cantwell said.

Interest from the large amount in the fund and repaid loans handed out of the fund may also help to elongate the help this money can provide.

Although the existing funding may go quickly, Cantwell said the biggest thing was getting the fund established, a feat that would not have been possible without the help of State Senators Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

State Representative Bruce J. Ayers (D-Quincy), State Representative Martin J. Walsh (D-Boston) and State Senator John F. Keenan (D-Quincy) also aided in the passage of the legislation, a release said.

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