For as long as I can remember, there have been certain areas of the city that have flooded whenever large rain storms have hit during high tides.
Living in a coastal area means that some flooding can't be avoided, but that doesn't mean all flooding can't be avoided.
As Salem has grown over the years, its landscape has changed in response to population and business growth. Areas that were once river front were filled in with earth in order to create living space and to accommodate business growth. Some of those low-lying, filled in areas became very vulnerable to flooding due to drainage issues. The water has to go somewhere.
Lower Bridge Street by the overpass and Canal Street in the Ocean Avenue and Forest Avenue area are probably the most obvious examples of the water going where it wants to go.
Multiple generations of Salem residents have been forced to deal with these incidents of flooding as they occur. Every Mayor and City Council in our lifetime, and the lifetime of our parents have been aware of the issue and for one reason or another have either been unable or unwilling to work toward a solution to the problem. I remember an effort some years back that was not successful.
The $15 million dollar fitness center project being proposed by Salem State University would seem to present an opportunity to make a real effort at addressing the flooding issues on Canal Street.
No one entity is responsible for the flooding. You can blame city or state government for allowing natural wetlands to be filled in. Blame can be applied to both government and business interests who paved over the same areas without realistic consideration to the sewerage and drainage issues that ensued. The blame game is just wasted emotional energy. Energy and effort is better spent pursuing a solution.
The City and SSU have an opportunity to work together during the fitness center project. Now is the time for a real and concerted effort by both entities. SSU may never again have such a chance to show true concern for the quality of life of its own students and the residents of the Canal Street corridor.
The many businesses in the area seem to do well enough that they can afford to be flooded out once or twice every year. If a place sells enough cheeseburgers to be able to afford the cleanups and the insurance rates that come with them, then, perhaps, they can also afford to contribute to the solution. The city for the last few years has chosen to keep the commercial tax rate steady while raising the residential rate every year. Maybe it's time for McDonald's or Global Gas to say "thank you" by also cooperating in this effort.
Outgoing Ward 3 Councilor Jean Pelletier has called this one of the most important unresolved issues to him as he leaves office. He is pledging to stay involved as the SSU project goes forward.
Due to the ward re-districting, incoming Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel has inherited this albatross. This is not a ward problem, however, it is a city-wide problem.
Here is to the hope that all parties involved — Salem, SSU, and Mother Nature — are able to come to cooperate and find a solution.