Hurricane Barrier Will Not Protect All New Bedford Homes If Irene Hits

NEW BEDFORD (CBS) – It has been a long time since Massachusetts took a direct hit from a hurricane, but it’s very possible Hurricane Irene will hit the state in some form.

A hurricane barrier in New Bedford that was built by the Army Corps of Engineers is ready, but it won’t protect everyone if Irene hits.

The barrier was built in the 1960’s and everyday, boats pass through the opening that can be closed with gates that weigh 440 tons each.

WBZ-TV’s Bill Shields reports

Just a couple of weeks ago, federal inspectors said the structure is sound.

In 1991 Hurricane Bob decimated the region, and it only produced a nine-foot storm surge. The barrier in New Bedford is capable of handling up to a 22-foot surge.

Fishermen say the barrier makes this port the safest in the northeast when a hurricane’s coming.

Still, there are neighborhoods not protected by the barrier. Those who live near the ocean get nervous once Hurricane Season begins.

  • Frank Haggerty

    Massachusetts has learned nothing since the Hurricane of 1938, Hurricane Carol in 1954 and Hurricane Bob 20 years ago.

    In New Bedford, a hurricane barrier was built in the 1960s by the Army Corps of Engineers with two 440-ton gates. The gates are old now and stayed in the stuck open position for several months in 2009 to make repair of reduction gear.

    The Cannon Street power plant on New Bedford Harbor was flooded in 1953 and finally closed in 1998. The toxic plant remains there today.
    In 2003, the Coast Guard relocated the Tahoma and the Campbell, both 270-foot cutters from New Bedford, to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

    After the 1938 hurricane during World War II, ship building move inland to the Quonset Point base in Rhode Island and the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy.

    We have got to question the decision by Gov. Deval Patrick and the leaders on Beacon Hill to propose building a $36 million ocean wind turbine port
    (New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal) behind the hurricane barrier.

    The tidal surge from Hurricane Bob was very high at the hurricane barrier with wind speeds of 106 mph.

  • Bob Kelly

    People have faulted the agency responsible for the levees in New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers, for adopting safety standards that were “too close to the margin” to protect human life.

    Louisiana has called for an urgent reexamination of the entire levee system, saying there are no assurances that the miles of concrete “I-walls” in New Orleans will hold up against even a moderate hurricane.

    Now we ask what standards are being used right here in New Bedford? Is the Army Corps of Engineers using standards from the 1960s? The state is proposing building an ocean wind turbine port behind the old manually operated steel doors. Do we even know what degree of hurricane can puncture to walls?

    There is also a proposal for a casino behind the barrier. What kind of public hearings have been held for these projects, one of which involves 50 million in taxpayer funds.

  • Margaret Bobb

    Is anybody in New Bedford questioning the structural integrity of the “CAD” emplacement of PCB waste in the middle of the harbor, under hurricane conditions? I visited New Bedford last summer for 4 weeks (while my son played for the NB BaySox Baseball team) and I attended public hearings held by the EPA about the new plans to, literally, dig a hole in the harbor, dump the waste into it, and cover the hole with sand and clay. No one seemed to question the long-term integrity of such a strategy in the context of hurricanes. As a geologist, who understands the magnitude of infrequent, but epic events, I was concerned for the residents of NB. I hope you are questioning and advocating for your environment! It seemed that a short term solution to hasten the cleanup so that the casino/tourist re-develpment could proceed quickly was influencing decisions. I hope you see the long-term importance of responsible clean-up and can weigh that against economic-profit motivations!

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