LEOMINSTER — Despite the threat of rain, Mayor Dean Mazzarella and others came together Tuesday to celebrate the “big deal” that is the North Nashua Riverbank Stabilization Project.
On Aug. 23, representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the State Legislature joined Mazzarella behind the city’s wastewater treatment facility to celebrate the project, which is set to stabilize a nearly 400-linear-foot section of the northern Nashua Riverbank between the facility and the Leominster Connector.
If left unchecked, the continued erosion of the riverbank could threaten the integrity of the treatment plant’s infrastructure. Damage to said infrastructure could lead to public health risk and, according to former Leominster Business Manager Roger Brooks, a “second-to-none” climate disaster as sewage and other wastewater could flood into the Nashua River.
The event was also part of a national push by FEMA to recognize local resiliency projects and highlight the agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which funded a significant portion of the project, and similar climate resilience grant programs, such as the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities and Flood Mitigation Assistance grant programs amid “unprecedented” federal funding.
“Infrastructure issues are never the sexiest to work on, but they’re often the most important and can have the greatest impact on people’s lives,” FEMA’s Region 1 Regional Administrator Lori Ehlrich said. “I am really glad to call attention to this project.”
“It’s not a very glamorous part of the business, infrastructure, and, no slight to former administrations, but it was very difficult to get these projects funded,” Mazzarella said. “But these are modern times, this isn’t 1960 where people could just discharge raw sewage into rivers and oceans — we had a responsibility to get this done and I’m glad we are on our way.”
Erosion of the embankment was discovered back in 2010 during unrelated testing of the river water by the Nashua River Watershed Association. In 2020, after a long grant application process described as “cumbersome” by MEMA Deputy Director Patrick Carnevale, Leominster was awarded $674,100 in federal funding for the $898,000 project through the HMGP.
“Back in 2010, (The Nashua River Watershed Association) discovered that the embankment here had started to become compromised,” Brooks said. “Later on, a couple of trees eventually fell in and, as time wore, we continued to lose more and more of the riverbank.”
“We’ve got two 36-inch sewer lines that run along the edge of the river — if those failed or the embankment gave way and caused a problem, the environmental impact would be second-to-none. So, safe to say, everyone here is glad to see this project truly get underway,” he said.
According to Department of Public Works Assistant Director Mark Piermarini, GZA GeoEnvironmental is managing the project design, which is nearing completion. Barring any setbacks, Piermarini said construction is expected to start “early next spring” and should be completed later in 2023.
Carnevale applauded FEMA, MEMA and Leominster on their ability to come together and work collaboratively, both in regard to the grant process and the project itself. He dubbed their work a “real success story,” while Ehlrich described Tuesday’s event as a “victory lap” for everyone involved.
“It’s all about partnerships — that’s how these projects work and, with that in mind, (the Nashua Riverbank Stabilization Project) is a real success story,” Carnevale said. “Getting a successful Hazard Mitigation grant across the line is complicated, and that success came through an incredible amount of work from everyone here today.”
“The city of Leominster, and cities and towns like it throughout Massachusetts, should be applauded for the long-term planning and vision, the foresight and commitment that made this project happen,” he said.
State Sen. John Cronin and state Rep. Natalie Higgins similarly thanked those in attendance for their work, while Cronin called the protection of Leominster’s water and wastewater systems as “critical and essential.”
“One thing that has always struck me is just how hard it is to get money to flow to a project that is uncontroversial and really necessary,” Cronin said. “I’m just so grateful to everyone that made today possible and it’s great to see these funds used how they were intended to,” he said.
“I’m really, really grateful for everyone that played a part in getting this done,” Higgins said. “The cross-collaboration from the local level to the state and federal level is why Leominster is such a special place – I’m really incredibly grateful to be able to celebrate with you all today.”
Mazzarella thanked everyone involved in the process for their hard work and described the federal funding as an “acknowledgment” that he and everyone involved in the project “have done and continue to do what is right for Leominster.”
“This is a big deal (to Leominster), it’s a big deal that everyone came out today — when FEMA and MEMA come out, that’s pretty important,” Mazzarella said. “It’s a team effort and I can’t thank you all enough.”
“We’re doing everything we can to try and make Leominster the best place it can be — we wouldn’t be able to do that without the help of FEMA and other federal and state agencies so, again, I just want to thank them.”