ROCKLAND, Maine — When Kendra Bryant moved into her home on the corner of Broadway 20 years ago, she thought the brook that cut across her property would be a nice feature.
Several major floods later — including one that brought sewage tainted water into their basement — if she and her husband were in a position to sell their home and move away from Lindsey Brook, they would. But they can’t — not with the current real estate market.
Bryant is not alone.
Homeowners with properties near Lindsey Brook — which consists of three branches that converge in downtown before outpouring into Rockland Harbor — have endured flooding and erosion issues on their properties for years. Despite the brook being used as part of the city’s stormwater system, neighbors say the city has failed to take responsibility for the problems associated with it.
A recent storm that brought more than 5 inches of rain on Halloween has magnified the problem. At least a dozen basements in the area of the brook flooded, which destroyed furnaces, water heaters and caused damage to some electrical systems, the city’s fire chief said.
With climate change expected to bring more frequent and intense storms, locals worry the problems will only get worse if nothing is done to improve the system and mitigate the flood risk.
“In the past few years, the intensity of storms [has been] increasing and the system is deteriorating and it is getting much worse,” Bryant said. “It’s concerning enough about our property and what it’s going to be like in the long term that if we felt like we were in a position to move we would try to be doing so.”
An overwhelmed system
Dating back to the late 1800s, the Lindsey Brook system has been manipulated to allow for the city to develop around it, according to Rockland Wastewater Department Director Terrance Pinto. Though it’s a natural brook, the water is channelized with granite blocks in some areas and goes underground in others — running underneath city streets and private property.
As new roads were built, Pinto said drains began to direct stormwater to the brook.
But the channelization of Lindsey Brook and its use as a stormwater system hasn’t aged well.
Residents and city officials said problems with the system include debris getting into the brook causing blockages. Parts of the channelized system are caving in and need rehabbing. In some areas where the brook runs underground, sink holes are forming in people’s yards. During heavy rain events the system also has a difficult time keeping up, which often results in flooding. It’s also largely unknown what condition the underground portions of the brook channels are in.
“What we have is an aging system that is being more and more stressed,” said Milan Pavich, a retired geologist who lives on Talbot Avenue, about 100 yards from the brook. “Basically what the city has allowed is the natural drainage system to be overloaded with very rapid storm runoff which then produces very high flood peaks which flood a good bit of the lower part of the city, basically from the harbor up to Broadway.”
Granite Street residents Simone Masse and Phil Kendrick experienced this first hand on the morning of Oct. 31. Shearer’s Brook — a branch that feeds into Lindsey Brook — runs open through a granite channel before going underground beneath their yard.
The couple has had some issues in the past with flooding on their property. But the Halloween storm was the worst they’ve experienced.
The intense rain caused the brook’s channel to fill with water and overflow onto their property, flooding their yard, neighbors’ yards and the street.
“We were basically in the middle of a river,” Kendrick said.
Water seeped in through a crawl space and flooded their basement with more than 4 feet of water. This destroyed their furnace, water heater and caused damage to parts of their electrical panel. The couple is still waiting on the final bill for the repair work, which their homeowner’s insurance did not cover.
Rockland Fire Chief Chris Whytock said based on damage reports he has received from property owners, citywide the Halloween storm resulted in about $100,000 of damage. He said a bulk of the damage was in the area of Lindsey Brook.
A question of responsibility
Residents who live along Lindsey Brook say the city has failed to maintain the brook system and properly mitigate flooding problems.
In recent decades, the city has said it is not responsible for maintaining the parts of the brook that are on private property. However, it does maintain the portions of the brook that are on public property as well as some areas where the city has easements, according to Pinto and Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell
The city’s stance is frustrating for property owners.
“To us it just seems like no one homeowner can do something on their property to fix the situation for themselves without affecting other people,” Bryant said. “It has to be a systemic fix that takes into account all these issues by engineers who actually know what they’re doing.”
Pinto has recommended that the city obtain easements from private property owners along the brook for maintenance.
“My argument on the legal side of it is that Lindsey Brook was pretty much private during the time that it was just a brook. When the city decided to start draining road surface water into the brook then the responsibility of maintenance turns to the city,” Pinto said.
After the Halloween storm and the recommendations of a recent stormwater plan, that could be changing.
“I think that is what is coming up here in the near future, is basically starting to look at Lindsey Brook as a whole and having the city maintain it,” Luttrell said. “But I think it’s going to take many years of discussion to go through because the price tag is going to be so high.”
A costly fix
The city has made some improvements to the system in the past. About 10 years ago, the city installed a stormwater bypass near where the brook passes under Union Street. The work was meant to help relieve some surging problems in that area, Pinto said, and was recommended by a 2008 study of Lindsey Book..
Earlier this month, an engineering firm presented the city with a new master plan that lays out recommended solutions ― which cost an estimated $13.8 million — for a number of stormwater deficiencies within the city, including two flood control projects along Lindsey Brook.
The projects would cost about $3 million in total, according to the plan, to create flood retention areas along two sections of the brook for holding water during large rain events. That would reduce flooding downstream.
However, people who live near the brook system are unsure how much of a difference the flood retention projects would make without other improvements.
Pinto said in addition to the flood retention projects, general maintenance to the brook system is needed. But to properly address these maintenance issues, the city would need to start obtaining more easements along the brook, Pinto said
As the city continues to discuss the stormwater plan recommendations and how to move forward, Luttrell said he anticipates that the topic of easements will come up. Though, he said it will be up to the city council to decide whether or not easements are ultimately pursued. Luttrell said he expects the city council will begin discussing the stormwater plan again after the holidays.
Given that climate change will mean a future with more frequent rain events, neighbors of the brook say action is needed sooner rather than later.
“It’s going to cost the city more and more if they don’t deal with this,” Pavich said.