By Sue Ellen Woodcock
It could have been the start of the nice Valentine’s Day holiday but when Sherri DeSimone looked out the window of her Arcadia Street home early Sunday morning she knew there was trouble.
Water from the adjacent marsh rose up several feet above normal flooding Arcadia Street and the Bay Road area of the Oak Island neighborhood, a neighborhood that already sits below sea-level. To top it off an outdoor temperature of -9 degrees froze everything solid, leaving several inches of ice under homes and on the road. Cars were frozen in their tracks.
“I took all the precautions, letting the faucets drip, opening the doors under the sink,” said DeSimone, who had to ship her kids off to friend’s homes and find a place for herself. Making her situation unique was the fact that there is a crawl space under the home exposing her pipes to the severe weather.
Every time she flushed the toilet or ran a faucet water would back up into her bathtub.
“It constantly floods down here,” DeSimone said, adding that she purchased the home in 2003. “There’s no where for the water to go.”
Omar Boukili, chief administrative officer for Mayor Brian Arrigo, said they received a telephone call at 4:45 a.m. Sunday morning and dispatched crews.
“The tidegate is used to allow seawater to come in and feed the marsh,” Boukili said. “The operation is very important to the restoration of the marsh. It was tough to reach the gate but they were able to manually override it.”
Sunday morning around 6 a.m. Ward 5 Councillor John Powers started getting telephone calls about the flooding. Five to six homes were impacted. Many of the homes in the Oak Island area used to be summer cottages that were winterized. The Department of Public Works salted and sanded the area and helped to scrape inches of ice off the road.
The tide gates were frozen in the open position and no one seemed to receive a warning alarm, Power said.
Powers said the tide gates regulate water coming in from the Saugus and Pines Rivers. The gates are now closed and will remain that was until spring when the city can make sure the gates are operational.
“They are supposed to prevent water from coming in during high tide,” Powers said.
DeSimone said the floodgates, trench and drain need to be cleaned on a regular basis. The tide gate is under the railroad tracks off Route 1A and has been there for about 20 years, Powers said. The city has invested almost $1 million to improve the system. It has also tripled the capacity of the catch basin in the area. The ditch running alongside DeSimone’s house runs from Wonderland and is filled with phragmites, a common reed.
“When they die they lay down in the ditch and that impedes flow,” Powers said. “That has to be addressed. Two things have to be addressed…clean the ditch, which can be costly and make sure the gates work and the alarm works.”
But like anything mechanical, from automobiles to trains, they do not operate well in extreme temperatures.
“They’re only operational in certain conditions,” Powers said.