Consultants share revised floodproofing design at contentious meeting

May 22, 2023

Consultants from the Fuss & O’Neill and Woods Hole Group firms gave their recommendations for a dry and thriving Main Street at a Wednesday, May 17 Zoom meeting, combining their two previously presented floodproofing designs for downtown.

The revised plan tries to strike a balance between flood resistance and economic redevelopment in Wareham Village. 

The consultants were hired after Wareham received a grant from the state in 2022 to develop a flood prevention plan for Main Street’s commercial district. That eventual plan will figure into the Wareham Redevelopment Authority’s urban renewal plan

A key addition in the revised design is a “floodable” pavilion that could be the site of a farmers market or event space in the center of downtown. As in previous designs, consultants highlighted buildings on the southern end of Main Street near the Narrows bridge that are not practical to floodproof, based on FEMA’s standards . The buildings would mostly be replaced by green space, and businesses would have to relocate to higher ground, potentially on Center Street.

The presentation was frequently punctuated by criticisms from Michael Kiernan, who has a law office at 267 Main St. He said he should have been notified about the Resilient Main Street meetings sooner.

“I should have been notified of all these meetings, that’s how this works,” Kiernan said. “You guys are obligated to notify people and you guys know that.”

Consultants said they sent an engineer to knock on doors and notify businesses earlier in the project’s timeline, but Kiernan said he never spoke with an engineer. Consultants also said they were unsure of how to specifically notify business owners of public meetings given the lack of a Main Street business association or collective.

Jessica Braley, owner of Grey Witches Gallery on Main Street, echoed Kiernan’s frustration. She said she didn’t hear about the public meetings until a few days before April’s Town Meeting, where Braley voiced her opposition to zoning changes for Main Street.

Fuss and O’Neill began the meeting with a presentation on current and future flood risk from sea level rise, both during storms and at daily high tides. 

Flooding during serious storms is already possible, consultants said, and will continue to get worse as the sea level rises. In addition, the rising sea means high tides alone will eventually cause some flooding. If Main Street is left as is, consultants said, high tide flooding could start to occur at least once a day after 2050. 

Andrew Costello, who lives on Sawyer Street, is concerned about potential flood risks. He remembers Hurricanes Carol and Edna, which devastated parts of the East Coast in 1954. 

Kiernan, on the other hand, said his family has owned the property at 267 Main St. for decades, and it’s been “bone dry” since the 1954 hurricanes. For that reason, he doesn’t “have any particular concern whatsoever” about flooding. 

Onset Village Association Board member Milly Burrows and Select Board member Tricia Wurts both expressed concern about future flooding.

“Especially given that we know the storms are increasing in intensity and frequency, I think it’s important that we take the steps now,” Burrows said. “[So] we don’t end up in a situation like what’s happening in Florida, where insurance companies are [leaving the state].”

A key facet of the proposed plan is a large “sponge park,” which is green space near the coastline that could soak up flood water, as well as an elevated edge next to the rail line that would allow for a walking trail and extra flood protection. Both of these features would cut down on the amount of parking on Merchants Way. 

During the presentation, Kiernan frequently interjected with concerns about parking spaces for customers at Main Street businesses like his own.

“You can build all the buildings and they can be beautiful, but no one’s coming if they can’t park their car,” Kiernan said.

Former Select Board member Jim Munise is concerned about the lack of parking spaces, and how the one-way traffic lane around the fire station would work.

Fuss and O’Neill Project Manager Eileen Gunn said the consultants “recognize that parking is… a design feature that has to be accommodated.” 

Fuss & O’Neill Senior Vice President Dean Audet agreed with Kiernan and acknowledged that parking would need to be figured out if the town decided to use the design recommendations. 

The consultants are gauging the community’s level of concern about current and future flood risk, as well as its opinion on whether the town should emphasize economic redevelopment or flood resilience, until Thursday, June 1. The consultants plan to draft a final report by mid-June.

Residents can go to to share their thoughts.