A glimpse into the future

Construction slowed traffic last week on the Lynnway.

The good news is that the sewer pipe repair project that snarled the Lynnway for most of last week is over and done with. The bad news is that the traffic slowdowns, the stop-and-start crawls through a single traffic lane, could become a semi-common occurrence locally over the next 10 years.

Last week’s sewer line repair ensured Nahant can continue to send its sewage to the Water and Sewer Commission’s Commercial Street extension waste treatment complex. The repairs represented an immediate fix that needed to be done. But Water and Sewer is weighing the pros and cons of a much larger project, one that involves spending $100 million-plus to end partially treated sewage discharges into the ocean.

Federal environmental officials want the discharges stopped and they want to see detailed plans for ending the overflows. Combined storm sewer overflow work (CSO) dates back, planning-wise, almost 40 years with significant work undertaken in East Lynn in the 1990s.

Simply defined, the work is aimed at ending or, at least, reducing occasions when water runoff from heavy rains overwhelms the Commercial Street extension treatment plants and sends partially-treated sewage into the ocean. Creating a new pipe network exclusively for rainwater prevents discharges but it also represents a costly, inconvenient nuisance for city residents.

Water and Sewer officials have already estimated rates could double over the next 10 years. Homeowners now paying between $600 and $1,000 annually for water and sewer service could pay double those amounts late into the next decade.

Water and Sewer commissioners and City Council members have argued back and forth about the need for more CSO work and how much work should be done. They point out that Lynn is well ahead of many other communities when it comes to providing clean quality water and efficiently-treated sewage.

The city’s rates, by contrast, are lower than ones paid by many residents in communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. But with federal regulatory attention focused on the city, Water and Sewer probably cannot avoid spending significant amounts of money on added CSO projects.

Proposals for new work center on West Lynn, specifically Bennett and Oakville streets, and the waterfront where, depending on the plan under discussion, projects ranging in description from massive to small-scale, are proposed for the Lynnway.

If federal pressure grows for CSO work to be done locally, it will fall to someone in elected office to define the scope of work required and build political consensus around the project required to get the work done.

Crucial to the consensus-building will be the realization that putting pipes under city streets means traffic slowdowns, inconvenience, frayed tempers and economic disruptions. If CSO work has to get done, it will get done, but Lynn residents deserve to be told what they will have to endure before the pain begins.

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