Coastal residents packed a Scituate selectmen meeting Tuesday night, demanding fixes to town seawalls with money that officials say they just don’t have.
Over a week after a massive blizzard churned and then threw the ocean at Scituate’s shores, residents say that there isn’t 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 seawalls,” said Scituate resident and member of the Scituate Seawall Committee David Ball. “They are bad and getting worse. People’s lives are at stake with a wall failure … we saw that happen in 2010.”
Although town officials appropriate approximately $200,000 annually to shoreline protections through a $2.2 million override passed in 2011, and have committed thousands more in capital budgets every year for the past four years, coastal residents say it isn’t enough.
To help do more, a group of residents have organized a citizen petition to appear on the upcoming April Town Meeting Warrant, which would allocate an additional $300,000 to seawall 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 request from seawall committee, plus $200,000,” Ball said. “We feel $500,000 is a fairly conservative amount of money given the scope of the problem.”
Concrete seawall fixes typically cost $1000-$2000 a foot. In the 27-miles of coastline, the town has over nine miles of both public and private seawalls, most of which are in fair or poor condition.
This most recent storm has added to those woes, with damage estimates ranging over $1 million already.
The Scituate Seawall Committee is also going through the Capital Planning Committee process to receive that $300,000, but said they have entered in a citizens petition as a back up plan in case their request does not go through.
The warrant isn’t clear where that additional $300,000 would come from, but town officials said that should the article pass, it will have to come directly from both the town and school’s 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 seawalls,” said acting selectmen Chairman Tony Vegnani. “We don’t have an infinite pot of money.”
Vegnani said seawall fixes were on the agenda, and if anything the board had showed how sympathetic they were to the coastal plight.
Over the past three to four years, the town has dedicated over $2 million to seawall repair, Vegnani said, which included override funding, lighthouse fixes from the Community Preservation Committee, and $500,000 in the capital budget.
The town is also working on getting some funding from the state, discussions about which are just beginning.
“[Seawall 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 numerous studies the town was doing for economic growth, and the money the town had invested in energy savings.
Joanne Ball, David’s wife, also criticized the town’s investments, saying that the coastal community was on a precipice.
“If you lose [the coastal residents’] tax money, what are you going to do? If you lose the town, what are you going to do? We don’t need a master plan!” she shouted.
According to Selectman John Danehey, that would be up to the taxpayers to decide.
“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.