Fixing Swampscott's King's Beach: Some Progress, Ongoing Frustrations

SWAMPSCOTT, MA — While Swampscott local and state elected officials continued to express optimism that a fix to the decades-old contamination problem that keeps King’s Beach in Lynn and Swampscott off limits to swimming more than quarter of the year is on the horizon, some residents at Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting on the beach expressed ongoing frustrations about the pace of the process and the lack of accessible updated information on the state of the beach and progress toward a solution.

“We have a generation that has lost access to this beach,” State Rep. Jenny Armini (D-Marblehead) said during the two-hour discussion. “In finding a solution we have to weigh timing and cost. The goal is to get King’s Beach open for our kids as fast as we possibly can in an effective manner.”

Click Here: Geelong Cats Guernsey

Much of what was presented on Wednesday was an overview of the information included in previous presentations surrounding the source of the problem — largely stormwater runoff of sewerage seeping into pipes and being released to the beach at the Stacy’s Brook outflow — and the merits of proposed solutions.

Find out what's happening in Swampscottwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Officials continued to champion an ultraviolet light treatment solution that engineers said could be the quickest, most cost-effective way to treat the water well enough so that the beach will be more than 90 percent accessible within the next few years.

Swampscott Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald also said on Wednesday that he received encouraging receptiveness to an outpour extension pipe of about 4,500 feet toward Nahant Bay that had previously been placed as a secondary solution because of its cost and the length of time it would take to install it.

Find out what's happening in Swampscottwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“The question is: Can we expedite the permitting on the state and federal level?” he said. “Can we really get them to take what was originally presented as an eight- or nine-year permitting process and take that down to 24 months or 36 months?

“That is the challenge.”

Yet, while Fitzgerald said there is “positive momentum” toward the ultimate goal of a safe and useable beach on both sides of the Lynn/Swampscott border, residents who spoke expressed concerns about the commitment to source elimination — making sure the sewage is not making it to the pipe system in the first place — and accessible information for those near the beach who say the signs are often confusing, conflicting between Swampscott and Lynn — which have different water testing schedules — and that information is not available on the municipal website.

When it comes to source contamination, Fitzgerald said the process of “sleeving” the pipes to reinforce them is ongoing and required through a state Department of Environmental Protection consent decree, but that the age and complexity of the pipe system make it necessary to have a two-tiered solution to the problem because “we could be in a position where we spend $20 million (on capital reinforcements) and we still couldn’t be able to use that beach.”

“If you start looking underground there are pipes you can’t see while you are driving through the town that is a spiderweb of connections and they are all interconnected,” he said. “These systems still work. And we’ve done an excellent job of maintaining them … but these are clay pipes and they do break. At any point, we might see a loading (of waste that increases bacteria levels).

“So one house fails and the beach may be shut down. One property can do enough loading that we would have to shut down that beach.”

Fitzgerald allowed the town must firm up its capital plan in that regard. But it was also noted that even if all Swampscott pipes were fortified, the lack of doing so comprehensively in Lynn — which is far less far down the road in addressing the issues — would still result in a closed beach because the discharge is essentially in the same place.

Fitzgerald said Lynn has become a strong partner in finding the combined solution that works for both the town and the city.

“We’ve gotten beyond who is responsible for it and we’re all owning it,” he said.

Fitzgerald also pledged more public information on when the beach is safe to swim and when it is not based on more online information and signage that is more visible and more consistent with Lynn.

He added that while the desire is to fix the problem as quickly and comprehensively as possible, that fix must include state and federal support, and cannot fall all on the backs of Swampscott taxpayers.

“I don’t think we should pay the lion’s share,” he said. “I think we’re a small town that should pay a proportional share.”

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.

Leave a Reply