Haverhill Councilors Call for Better Public Notification of Sewage Overflows into the River

Map produced from the City of Haverhill's Geographic Information System.

The Haverhill City Council says a better plan is needed to alert residents of sewage overflows into the Merrimack River.

As WHAV reported first July 20, a combined sewage overflow, called a CSO, took place from sites in Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell. City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua gave a less than pleasant description last week about how that affects Haverhill residents.

“We have people who are boating in the river. We have people that are kayaking. We have people that are fishing in the river and there are probably people that are swimming in the Merrimack River. It’s a public health hazard,” he said.

In February of last year, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a notification law, requiring sewage plants to issue a public alert within two hours of a discharge that explains where and how much sewage was released, the areas affected and what precautions the public should take. That alert must be updated every eight hours during the ongoing discharge.

That notification procedure primarily focuses on the use of email and local newspapers. Bevilacqua said those methods simply do not reach everyone.

“The majority of the people have a telephone and so we have robocalls. We can post it on the electronic signs that are in the city right now,” he noted.

Fellow Councilor Melinda E. Barrett reported the information is available online, but there could be a better job of disseminating it.

“We can do better with the public notification. The information is there. We just have to hit social media a little more, I’d say.”

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan agreed, saying the problem will only get worse with time, and the system needs to be improved.

Councilors voted 7-0 to draft a letter to Mayor James J. Fiorentini and the head of the Water Department to pursue those and other avenues of notification.

Separately, the Council also discussed excessive noise coming from the Caleb Dustin Hunking School parking lot and basketball court after dark, particularly on weekends.

Barrett said she spoke with Police Chief Robert P. Pistone as well as School Superintendent Margaret Marotta about the issue.

“There is an ordinance on the books about using the schools after dusk. It is prohibited. The chief and the superintendent’s office will post the restrictions on use of playgrounds and properties after dusk,” Barrett noted.

Council President Timothy J. Jordan said he also spoke with the chief and superintendent who said the current regulations forbid use of the playground areas between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Jordan said with daylight lasting until 8 or 9 p.m. during the summer, 6 p.m. seemed early to make kids leave. He said the school administrators and police are working on a plan that’s fair to everyone.

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

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