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“It’s just not doable anymore” – Flooding has forced the owner of a multimillion-dollar elevator business to consider moving out of Saugus

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By Mark E. Vogler


Glenn Bowie said he regrets he will probably have to leave the Belair Street location in East Saugus where he’s been running a multimillion dollar elevator business for the last 20 years. “I love where I am. It’s beautiful over by the marsh. It’s quiet down there,” Bowie told the Board of Selectmen at Tuesday (Jan. 23) night’s meeting.

But the prevalence of flooding in the area – which worsens every year – has forced Bowie to consider relocating the business he’s owned for four decades. “And my whole investment and my whole business is going to have to move to another city. And I’m probably not the only one. I think you should really do something about this and do it now,” he said.

Bowie was among a handful of people who showed up at Tuesday night’s meeting at the request of Precinct 10 Town Meeting member Peter Manoogian to explain why it’s necessary for selectmen to aggressively lobby state and federal elected leaders to make revival of the Regional Saugus River Floodgate Project a top priority. Manoogian requested the board’s endorsement of the floodgate project and has asked that members write a letter to the town’s state and federal delegation of elected officials, calling on them to fund an updated study of the project that addresses the flooding issue that affects Saugus and four other North Shore communities – Everett, Lynn, Revere and Malden. Local officials in those communities are seeking support and up to $3 million for an updated feasibility study of the floodgate project.

After listening to Manoogian, Bowie and other speakers, selectmen gave favorable feedback to Manoogian’s requests, acknowledging that the Jan. 13 flooding – which forced the four-hour closure of parts of Hamilton Street and Route 107 – was some of the worst they’ve observed in recent memory. “I’ve never seen floods like this in Saugus. It was horrific,” Board of Selectmen Chair Debra Panetta said.

Panetta said she and other board members hope to have two letters drafted by the Feb. 6 meeting: one seeking the commitment of funds for the floodgate feasibility study; the other for funds to restore the marsh.

Manoogian told The Saugus Advocate that he was happy with the board’s reaction to his requests. “Yes, I feel the Board and the [town] manager showed a good understanding of the issue and the necessary urgency,” Manoogian said.

“The best case scenario is for state and federal legislators that represent Saugus and the four other affected communities to coordinate efforts to get the study funded,” he said.


Flooding’s impact on a company

An online company profile describes Hamilton Elevator Interiors Inc. as a family-owned business that designs, builds and renovates custom elevator enclosures, interiors and entrances. “Since going into business in the 1920s, we have crafted elegant cabs for some of the most prestigious mid and high-rise buildings in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine,” the profile noted.

Bowie is listed as the president, treasurer and director of Hamilton Elevator Interiors, Inc. of Saugus.

“It’s definitely the worst I have ever seen,” Bowie told selectmen of his impression of the latest flooding.

“I’ve owned the business for 40 years and we moved to that side of Saugus 20 years ago. And every year it gets worse. When we had puddles in the street, it was okay. It came in my building the last three years and it was a foot deep,” Bowie said. “And I have employees who have to stay home when that happens. The ground gets so saturated that all the pipes freeze. So I have to have the gas company come down probably three times a year and put a new meter on. That’s their solution. But it shuts down work for days. I build elevators for a living. The elevator business is like ‘go, go, go.’ The elevator shuts down, people are screaming.”

Bowie said he recalls public discussion of the floodgate project back in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. “And then it got squashed,” he said, referring to a 1993 decision by the state Secretary of Environmental Affairs under Gov. Bill Weld to halt the project.

“Whatever happened, happened. The water wasn’t bad back then. It’s bad now. It’s dangerously bad…whatever you guys could do would be appreciated,” he told selectmen.

It’s probably too late, though, for Bowie, who has already begun to look at new locations for his business, which employs 12 people. He worries about the $200,000 machines housed in the Bellair Street building, which can be damaged if they come in contact with salt water.

“I love Saugus and I’ve been a business owner in Saugus forever,” Bowie said, noting that his company contributes to the local economy as a corporate taxpayer while using businesses and service companies in town.

“I’m thinking of selling and getting out while I can. I know my business property isn’t worth what it should be. I just don’t know what to do anymore… I see the people in the neighborhood, you know, panicking. It’s four feet deep in the middle of the street,” he said.

“I see the people in the neighborhood panicking. I’m going to have to get out. I hate to move,” he said.


Revere city councilor embraces study

To revive the floodgate project would require the commitment and support of all five communities. Revere City Councilor Angela Guarino-Sawaya of Ward 5 told selectmen during the meeting that Revere strongly supported the study. “We’re on board with the study because the study that was done years ago – the MVP study – they were talking about 30 and 50 years that the water was going to start coming up,” Guarino-Sawaya said.

“This past week, we saw 10.6 feet of waste, which was astronomical. I was knee deep in Riverside in water,” she said.

“Now, we are all for the study. But I’m not all-in for the floodgates, because you’re going to alleviate the problem on one side and then the water needs to go somewhere. And where’s it going to go? It’s going to the Point. And the point is the Point of Pines and we’re going to end up underwater. So, I do want the study. I want the Army Corps of Engineers or whoever is going to do the study to come back with facts before we make any decisions. But we are all in,” she said.

“I’m nervous about what’s going to happen if they do have the floodgates, to be honest with you. I’m afraid. The years they’re talking about are about 30 to 50 years. I’m looking more like 10 to 15 years, is when Rice Avenue, in particular, will be completely under water.”

Manoogian said he’s had conversations with Guarino-Sawaya about sand from the restoration of the marsh going over to the Port of Pines. “The study will address those concerns,” Manoogian said. “Of course, Revere would have to be satisfied with what the study comes up with. But, as the [town] manager points out, we don’t want someone to suffer for something that benefits one group. I believe this concern can be resolved and I’m glad the issue has been raised. And Revere is on board for the study.”


Trapped on Bristow Street

Precinct 10, an area in East Saugus which features some of the most flood-prone neighborhoods in town, had three town meeting members attending Tuesday night’s meeting: Manoogian, Darren Ring and Carla A. Scuzzarella.

“I’ve never seen Bristow Street as bad as it was. And I lived there for almost 30 years. And I live right around the corner on Carr Road,” Scuzzarella said.

“Bristow was getting it from both ends: coming down the hill, down the street and then coming up from the marsh area and the river. People are just besides themselves – water they’ve never seen. Not everybody has flood insurance down there. It just makes it really difficult when you can’t drive, can’t get out of there. There’s no other way out of there without driving through the waste, so to speak,” she said.

“I appreciate you listening to Peter and I appreciate your concern and I’m really hoping that we can move this forward because it is important to an entire precinct of our community as well as the people across Ballard Street, on that side of the river. The water was extremely high. For them to close 107 – I’ve lived in Saugus a long time – that’s a rare thing that Route 107 gets shut down to traffic. We need some help. Hopefully, letters will do it.”


The starting point

Tuesday night’s discussion on the revival of the floodgate project took about 45 minutes. It was initiated by a letter Manoogian wrote to selectmen last week, requesting to have the letter on the meeting agenda for a discussion.

“This is the beginning of a process to build public sentiment and convince our state and federal delegation that this is needed,” Manoogian said.

Saugus has experienced the fourth and sixth highest flood events since the Blizzard of 1978 – and both events took place early in the new year.

President Biden authorized the most recent study of the floodgate project in December of 2022, but it has yet to be funded. “The project got put on the radar screen and was reauthorized,” Manoogian said.

“We need the study to be funded and update the work that’s been done,” he said.

“Ideally, the project could be in the water by 2035,” he said.

Manoogian estimated it would cost $300 million to build the floodgates, with the federal government paying for 65 percent of the project and the state’s share at 35 percent. He said Saugus’ share of the costs would be $10.5 million. It would cost Saugus about $150,000 as part of its share for the $3 million study.

Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree offered Manoogian and selectmen advice on how to garner support for the project and study. “To me – strategically – getting the other communities on board is going to have a lot more influence,” Crabtree said.

“I think the money is the least of the issues,” he said. “I think you need ‘buy-in’ for that study.”

Crabtree stressed it would be important for the state delegation to submit something in writing to back the project.

Selectman Michael Serino said the town has already done its fair share to address the flooding issue in town. “We need to get these five communities on board. Saugus can’t do it ourselves,” Serino said.

Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini stressed that putting pressure on the town’s state and federal legislative delegations is crucial. “I’ll write a letter 50 times over, but the teeth comes from our delegation,” Cicolini said.

“Without the state and federal government pushing for it, it’s going to fall on deaf ears,” he said.

Cicolini experienced the frustrations of Precinct 10 homeowners firsthand. “I witnessed it. I built my home down there [Beachview Avenue] – ’98 to 2018,” Cicolini said.

“I witnessed three significant flooding events. Since I left, there have been five significant flooding events…The devastation that’s down there is crazy,” he said.


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