King’s Beach Part III: The Commonwealth dives in

State Sen. and candidate for Lieutenant Governor Adam Hinds, left, meets with state Sen. Brendan Crighton to discuss the issues surrounding King's Beach in Lynn and Swampscott. (Spenser Hasak)

(Editor’s Note: This summer, King’s Beach received the worst water-safety rating in the region. In the final story of an Item three-part series exploring the beach’s past, present and future, today we explore Lynn, Swampscott and the Commonwealth’s plans for long-term pollution mitigation.)

With results from both Lynn and Swampscott source elimination efforts coming in slow and steady, local officials seek assistance from the State House to fund long-term water treatment or pollution mitigation projects at King’s Beach.

Both municipalities’ ongoing efforts toward source elimination — the process of finding and fixing sewage leaks into municipal drainage systems in Swampscott or illegal connections from sewage lines to drainage pipes in Lynn to prevent sewage-laced water from running into King’s Beach— began in response to federal consent decrees from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In Swampscott DPW’s September consent decree report to the EPA, the $4.8 million source-elimination project has resulted in a gradual decrease in wastewater bacteria since it began in 2015.

Still, the municipality reported numerous bacteria spikes in the town’s water tests, with one 2022 sample collected from the intersection of Paradise and Ellis Roads showed roughly 1,900 enterococci (fecal) bacteria in a 100-milliliter sample — the largest recorded bacteria spike in Swampscott since 2015.

Last week, Swampscott DPW Director Gino Cresta said that phase one, or the town’s efforts toward source elimination, is not producing the results town officials hoped for.

“We’re going to be looking for some more resources to start phase two,” Cresta said.

Swampscott’s phase two cuts into a duo-municipal effort to build pollution mitigation infrastructure at the beach. In Lynn, the seemingly sisyphean process of Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) consists of source elimination efforts to locate and eliminate all the illegal sewage connections to the city’s stormwater drainage pipes.

“Our main issue is that it’s so hard to find these connections and there’s so much ground to cover. It’s certainly not an issue of will, it’s an issue of actually uncovering where the problem is and it’s a gargantuan effort. There’s no way to just expedite it, which is why we have been thinking about complementary solutions while we continue to push IDDE,” Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson said.

In February, the King’s Beach Steering Committee — comprising of representatives from the Town of Swampscott, the City of Lynn, regulatory agencies, public-interest groups and consultants — sent a letter to the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rebecca Tepper requesting $25 million to disinfect the beach with UV rays.

Until this summer, building an ultraviolet light treatment center to zap bacteria-ridden water was the committee’s preferred option for long-term options. With a roughly $25 million price tag and an estimated three-year cleanup time, state Rep. Jenny Armini, whose district includes Swampscott and part of Lynn, said in June that the option served as the cheapest and fastest solution to reopen the beach.

“The [steering committee] has been trying to find options, balance time and money to get that beach open as quickly as possible,” Armini said. “A generation has gone by that hasn’t had access to this beach on a regular basis.”

UV light treatment, although the fastest and most affordable option, remains one of six potential Commonwealth-funded projects. In a meeting with Undersecretary of Environment Stephanie Cooper, Armini said the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs was receptive to one of the committee’s secondary options — construction of a 7,500-foot outpour extension pipe at Stacey’s Brook that would relocate stormwater runoff out into the harbor, where the bacteria would be diluted through the ocean current.

The pipe, however, comes at an estimated cost of $50 million, and would take an estimated eight years to bring the beach’s water quality to a safe level.

“Let’s have the discussion of how long it will take to get the outfall pipe installed, and at what cost? The priority is opening the beach for this generation, not the next one,” Armini said.

According to Nicholson, the steering committee has not yet ruled out the UV light treatment option and is working through Swampscott’s engineering consultant Kleinfelder to begin an estimated $100,000 UV light treatment pilot program in the next few months.

Sen. Brendan Crighton, who co-chairs the Metropolitan Beaches Commission, said finding time and funding for King’s Beach infrastructure projects remain the most significant challenges toward cleaning the beach.

One of the downsides to construction of a UV light treatment center, he said, is the fact that it would come with regular operational costs, as opposed to an outfall extension, which would not require as much maintenance once it’s installed. Still, Crighton said, the outfall pipe would require a thorough review to ensure the bacteria-ridden waters are pushed far enough away from the beach to be properly diluted and to ensure the pipe project would not pose a threat to aquatic life.

“The outfall obviously creates a permanent solution that doesn’t require operating dollars since you don’t need to maintain a facility, you just extend the pipe far enough out. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot longer to get there — between seven and 10 years — which is significant,” Crighton said.

In 2022, Crighton helped secure $5 million dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funding to be split evenly between Lynn and Swampscott for the elimination at King’s Beach. Additionally, the senator said former Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee, during his service in the Senate, worked to amend an environmental bond bill allowing the Commonwealth to allocate up to roughly $30 million toward beach infrastructure projects such as those planned at King’s Beach.

“Obviously, that’s competing against many other bond authorizations over the years. It’s not to say that it’s actual cash money, but we’re saying to the Governor, ‘please spend money on this.’ We said that to Baker and we are working currently with the Healy administration to do the same,” Crighton said. “The challenging part is just the price tag and the amount of time that it’s going to take. Another generation of our youth will have grown up without a swimmable beach here in Lynn.”

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