WESTFIELD — Melissa Coady, project engineer with Tighe & Bond, presented plans to repair the damaged culverts on the Little River Levee to the Conservation Commission on Tuesday.
Coady said the levee, which was built in 1955, was ranked as deficient by the Army Corps of Engineers in an inspection in 2011. Corrugated culverts that go under the levee at Ponders Hollow Road, and have flaps that are designed to allow backflow from the street side to the Little River, are in poor condition.
The plan is to slip a new pipe through the two culverts, replace the flaps, remove the woody debris, and place additional riprap — manmade stone — on the bank of the river. Coady said In 1983, when the levee was failing, the Army Corps of Engineers did a repair and used riprap.
Resource areas in the project that are under the commission’s purview are the Little River riverfront area, bordering vegetative wetland, and bordering land subject to flooding on both sides.
In addition, MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage program has identified the area as a priority resources area for creeper mussels, a protected species found in the Little River. Coady said that change, which wasn’t previously an issue, was added with revised mapping in 2021. She said Tighe & Bond has submitted a notice of intent to Natural Heritage, and is now in a 30-day review period that ends on June 9.
Coady said the city, which owns the levee, came before the commission previously for permission to remove five trees that had taken root on the levee. She said once the conditions are restored, the city will provide long-term oversight and management of the levee, and will remove all seven stumps.
Commissioner Carl Grobe asked how far the riprap will be away from the river.
Coady said the rocks will be placed below the high-water line and above the low-water line, along 80 linear feet, and the work will add 40 feet of additional riprap to keep the levee free of vegetation. She said woody vegetation is one of the reasons the Army Corps declared the levee deficient. The corps was notified of the work, came and inspected the levee, and supports the design, Coady said.
She said the riprap was also commented on by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which found the levee to be a public works project.
Commission Chair David Doe asked if the levee’s design is unique to Westfield. Coady said most levees have pumps, but on smaller systems, culverts are more common.
“The reason it’s failing is that the Little River is eroding the levee, and there are limited options,” Coady said, adding that the work within the bordering land subject to flooding requires a waiver from the Conservation Commission, which is unavoidable.
“The riverfront area is not a natural corridor. The levee must be free of woody vegetation,” she said.
Doe asked Conservation Director Anna Meassick if a peer review was needed. She said no, because she has been working with city departments of engineering and public works, and has visited the levee several times.
Doe said the commission needed to wait for Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act comments, and go on a site visit.
City Council President John Beltrandi, who attended the meeting, said he had previously been on a site visit to the levee with the Flood Control Commission.
“It’s in poor condition. It should have been done a long time ago,” he said.
The hearing on the Little River Levee application was continued to June 13.