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Teaming up to clean King’s Beach

This article was published 1 year(s) and 2 month(s) ago.

Options for cleaning up King’s Beach were discussed at the Swampscott Select Board meeting Wednesday. (Item file photo)

LYNN — With the summer in full swing, efforts to improve the water quality at King’s Beach are ramping up. 

The beach, which has continuously faced the issue of elevated bacteria levels, is an area of focus for state agencies, Lynn and Swampscott officials, and nonprofits such as Save the Harbor/Save the Bay and Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach. 

Testing is underway to potentially narrow down the source of the contamination. For years, two pipes—one in Lynn and one in Swampscott—have discharged groundwater and stormwater runoff into the ocean, particularly after heavy rainfall. Wet weather conditions can unpredictably wash surface pollutants into the storm drain system and contaminate the flow from the stormwater outfalls onto the beach, but dry weather contaminants are being looked into as well.  

Kleinfelder, a company of engineers, scientists and construction professionals who provide solutions to improve water, energy and other infrastructure, is working with the City of Lynn, the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission (LWSC) and the Town of Swampscott on the King’s Beach Water Quality Engineering Study, which will identify and analyze alternative approaches to alleviate the water quality issues. 

The study will analyze six alternatives: source elimination through infrastructure improvements (e.g. rehabilitation of sewers and drains); pumping dry weather base flow to LWSC wastewater treatment plant; disinfection with chemical addition such as chlorine; disinfection with ultraviolet light; extending the outfall deeper into the ocean; or relocating the outfall along the shore where there is no public beach. 

A steering committee, which includes representatives from the Town of Swampscott, the City of Lynn, LWSC, regulatory agencies, public interest groups and consultants are serving in an advisory capacity and facilitating the direction of the study. All discussions and recommendations will be considered, but the Town of Swampscott and City of Lynn are jointly responsible for selecting the final preferred approach.

“We are taking a collaborative approach to address a regional problem,” said Lynn Mayor Jared C. Nicholson. “There are no easy answers, but all the key stakeholders have come together to work on what we hope will be long-term solutions.”

“I am extremely pleased with the regional collaboration and efforts to address the challenges with King’s Beach,” said Swampscott Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.  “While both Swampscott and Lynn have spent millions on incremental improvements to our infrastructure, we are currently evaluating options that will provide for a major capital investment to address these challenges.”

LWSC is also taking additional steps to make improvements in the near-term. In November, it approved $92,000 to work with Environmental Partners, an environmental engineering consulting firm. Consultants from the firm are working to address major infrastructure improvements to the city’s sewage and storm drain system. They are also helping the city to develop and implement an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) plan. 

Based on initial testing, LWSC approved an additional $236,000 for follow-up testing—particularly in the 11 sites (out of 36) that had elevated bacteria levels. The additional testing should also help determine how much of the bacteria is enterococci/fecal contaminants and how much is coming from soaps, urine or personal care items. 

LWSC Executive Director Daniel O’Neill said the team has been investigating four of the sections over the past few weeks, with no new leads. For example, a storm drain at the intersection of Marianna Street and Fiske Avenue had a higher bacteria count, but no source could be found at nearby homes.   

“We had a contractor ready to go in case an older sewer pipe hadn’t been converted, but that wasn’t the case,” said O’Neill. 

Prior to 1985, when Lynn’s $65 million wastewater treatment facility opened, sewer pipes and storm drains were connected to Stacey’s Brook, which emptied into King’s Beach. That is no longer the case, but the city is doing its due diligence to make sure no sewer-to-pipe connections were missed. 

Last year, King’s Beach had one of the lowest water quality scores. Based on Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s annual Metropolitan Beaches Water Quality Report Card for the 2021 beach season, it placed 14th of out 15 Boston metropolitan beaches, with 68 percent of water samples being compliant with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s single sample limit for bacteria.

Stacey’s Brook generally has the highest levels of bacteria, and beachgoers are advised not to swim or wade in the brook. On the beach itself, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) posts daily flags for “safe to swim” (blue) and “not safe to swim” (red). 

Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), who co-chairs the Metropolitan Beaches Commission, is optimistic that the tide could be changing, so to speak, in regards to the future of King’s Beach. 

“We’ve been working on this issue and pushing for funding for over a decade, and only recently were we able to get a good chunk of money,” said Crighton, who has been a vocal advocate, along with Rep. Dan Cahill, Rep. Peter Capano, former state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, Congressman Seth Moulton and Ward 3 Councilor Coco Alinsug.

In December, the state delegation was able to secure $5.3 million for King’s Beach through the American Rescue Plan Act. The funding is to be shared between the City of Lynn and Town of Swampscott. 

“I’m down there all the time and Long Beach fills up, but it’s a wasted resource for King’s to be un-swimmable,” said Crighton. “Our beaches could be such an attraction for all to enjoy.” 

Both Crighton and Chris Mancini, executive director of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, call it an environmental justice issue.

Mancini has been with Save the Harbor/Save the Bay since 2017 and is proud to represent the region’s leading voice for clean water and continued public investment in Boston Harbor and the region’s public beaches. The organization led the effort to virtually eliminate both combined sewer overflows and stormwater discharges into North Dorchester Bay, making the South Boston beaches some of the cleanest urban beaches in the country. Mancini moved to Swampscott with the hope of playing a role in a similar turnaround story. 

“Hopefully this will be part of my legacy,” he said.

Mancini says that although some of the solutions could be costly and time-consuming—even requiring a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency—the end results would be worth it. 

“If contamination continues to be there, the least we can do is get it away from people,” he said.

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