Town Administrator Thomas Younger wanted to delay a study of storm water flooding on Paradise Road, but the Town Meeting had approved $40,000 for the study last spring and the residents wanted it done now.
Younger, calling flooding "the major issue for the community," could read the handwriting on the wall as a crowd of residents, led by Julia Arsenault of Swampscott Avenue, packed the Selectmen's meeting room to argue that they needed the town to begin now to work on the flooding issues.
"We were promised a year ago that this study would be done this year," Arsenault said.
She and other residents painted a frightening picture of how often their homes are flooded. "Last night we sat up watching the storm trying to decide, 'Do I have to move my car? Am I going to be killed?'" she said.
At the rate the town is moving on the flooding issue, Arsenault said, it will be two years before the residents will see any relief.
Selectman Jill Sullivan said some of the flooding problems may take 10 years. She supported going ahead with the Paradise Road flooding study, although she has been the champion of a townwide study.
Younger said some short-term relief is underway. A contract with an engineering firm is being finalized to start work on the flooding problems around the Tedesco Country Club. That project should help the flooding that has plagued the Hawthorne Brook neighborhood, Younger said.
And the Department of Public Works is beginning to clean out catch basins to allow more water to flow into the storm water system.
But DPW Director Gino Cresta said the town has long neglected the storm water system. He said one of the reasons Paradise Road floods is that 36 and 48-inch pipes lead to 12-inch pipes, which backs the water up.
Younger wanted to wait until next May to have the Town Meeting approve funding for a townwide study of the storm water drainage system. The $40,000 approved last spring would be held over to use in the larger study, he said.
The frustrated residents opposed that plan.
"This is a major safety issue. This is a major health issue," Aaron Reams, a resident whose house floods regularly.
"The town has failed. There is a huge need here," Selectman Barry Greenfield said. "The town should have addressed this problem 25 years ago."
Cresta said the sewer system has also been neglected. The clay pipes that carry the sewage get backed up and blow manhole covers.
Residents told stories of watching soiled toilet paper floating down the street.
Cresta and several residents blamed the town's growth for some of the problems. "The system just can't handle the growth," Cresta said.
Greenfield said there are no quick or inexpensive solutions, but he said he has talked with the state Department of Environmental Protection which said Swampscott would qualify for low-interest loans to pay for fixing the flooding problems.