Blish Point residents press Barnstable to deliver flood protection 

Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells displayed interactive flood zone maps at the Aug. 16 Barnstable Town Council meeting and again at a half-day emergency preparedness workshop for town employees on Aug. 17.

Barnstable Harbor, Blish Point, and Commerce Road are among the most vulnerable areas on the color-coded Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, dated 2014.

Which is why Peter Halesworth of Barnstable has attended every town council meeting since April: to keep pressing for solutions.

“Since April 26, we have been eagerly awaiting the game plan,” Halesworth told the council in July. “We’re wary the town will once again be unprepared. ‘For-sale’ signs are popping up as silence and indecision prevail.”

Ells and Dan Santos, director of Barnstable Department of Public Works, have repeatedly assured Halesworth that the town is actively working on taking precautions.

A $2.4 billion environmental bond bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Aug. 21 includes $1.3 million for Blish Point storm-relief. Those projects are designed to restore the marsh and ensure safe egress during floods in vulnerable neighborhoods along Barnstable Harbor. Another $50,000 appropriation in the same bill would help restore dunes and contain sediment.

Halesworth said the state sponsors of Barnstable’s coastal resiliency funding -- including state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, state Rep. Will Crocker, R-Centerville, and state Rep. Timothy Whelan, R-Brewster -- “get” the urgency. He also reminded Ells and the councilors that he and his neighbors annually pay about $2 million in property taxes for town services.

“Schedule aggressive seasonal maintenance,” Halesworth urged the town council. “Inspect and repair culverts, drainage pipes, and marshes. Raise the berm. Fast-track permits. Create a game plan for a solution.”

Ells said the Blish Point area is a public safety priority for the town.

“We want to make sure the systems are flowing,” Ells said. “We also may want to raise the road. We have significant flooding in this area. This is what nature brings to us to try to manage.”

Last spring, five nor’easters inundated the Cape and Islands. High winds, heavy rains, rising seas, and extensive flooding hammered homes along Barnstable Harbor and Maraspin Creek.

Halesworth said 30 to 40 of some 200 homes along Commerce Road and Blish Point suffered flood damage. Military-style emergency vehicles rescued occupants, whose basements and first floors filled with 3-4 feet of water. Halesworth had to remodel the first floor of his house.

The situation has reached beyond a crisis point, said Councilor John Flores on Aug. 16.

“Showing me the maps is one thing, but what are the solutions?” Flores asked Ells.

Ells thanked Halesworth and his neighbors for continuing to communicate their concerns.

“Perhaps we haven’t been as diligent in our communication as Public Works has been in responding,” Ells said. “We’ve gone out and cleaned all of the catch basins, flapper valves, and the culvert. We’ve retained an engineering consultant that specializes in looking at these issues to look at the culvert on the east end. We expect to have an evaluation of that in the coming months.”

Ells estimated that renovating the culvert, raising the road, and improving evacuation access would cost about $3 million.

“We’ll continue to work with the neighbors on this and do a better job of communicating our efforts,” Ells said. “I believe this will progress to a capital project, and we’ll move forward with it. We are actively working on it.”

But he added, “We need to educate that there are things beyond our control, and people need to be aware of that.”

Councilor Jennifer Cullum of Precinct 13-Hyannis said she empathizes with Blish Point residents.

“I have concerns that the 100-year storm is now the 10-year storm,” Cullum said.

Discharging water from the east stretch of the Commerce Road culvert is like trying to drain water from a bathtub through a pinhole, Halesworth said Aug. 22.

“It’s going to be tough here to beat the clock,” he said. “It seems like a plan is finally in the works; we just don’t know what it is. It just takes a very long time, even though they characterize it as a crisis.”