Editor's Note: The New Bedford Hurricane Barrier still awaits the "Ultimate Test"
by MLBaron westislandweather.com
WEST ISLAND: On May 21, 1966 the dedication of the largest Hurricane Barrier in the world took place in New Bedford, MA. Forty-five years later, this massive stone structure has yet to be given the "ultimate test" for which it was designed for; a 1938 style Category 3 Hurricane. Although the dike closes up to a dozen times a year for storm events that bring southerly gales and tidal surges, a closure for a hurricane is a rare occurrence. Hurricane Bob in 1991 met the criteria for closure as the Category 2 storm impacted Southern New England causing over $1.5 Billion in damages. New Bedford's inner harbor was protected by the dike from a storm surge of 7.6 feet. A major hurricane hasn't impacted the region since.
Many agree that this barrier would have been met with resounding opposition by environmentalists today if an intrusive stone structure of this magnitude enclosing an entire bay was introduced. Environmental laws and stricter regulations that were virtually non-existent 45 years ago would have made this idea just a pipe dream today.
A recently discovered Standard-Times publication of the Hurricane Barrier in 1966 documents it's planning stages in 1957 to the eventual construction in 1962. The overall project saw 3 Presidents in office during it's nine years. See below for the complete story
From the vintage Standard-Times Newspaper Suppliment "The Southeasterner" May 15, 1966
May 21, 1966: HARBOR SECURED
By Charles Buffum Standard-Times Staff Writer
It cost $1,000 a foot, is long enough to span the 3.5 mile width of New Bedford, is as high (and wider ) than The Great Wall of China, and has enough steel in it to build a Navy destroyer. Its two huge steel navigational-sector gates weigh 400 tons apiece-each 35 tons heavier than the biggest locomotive ever built-and each as tall as a six-story house.
When the gates swing shut at the touch of a button to lock out devastating storm tides, they create a pond inside the barrier which could cover 6,500 acres of land with a foot of water. They keep out much more.
Hurricane Carol (above) struck Southeastern Massachusetts on Tuesday, August 31st, 1954. It was the first named hurricane to strike New England since they first started naming hurricanes around 1950. This recently discovered rare film clip was taken from a boat that starts at Ft Phoenix Beach in Fairhaven and sails into the harbor and films the destruction starting at Hathaway Braley Wharf, Kelly's Wharf, and the collapsed WNBH radio tower on Crow Island. The clip ends going by Marine Park and finally at The Skipper Restaurant with Fairhaven High School in the background. From the MLBaron Historic Archives and http://www.westislandweather.com/
If a hurricane with the power and tides of The 1938 Hurricane were to hit and the barrier were not here, damage in today's (1966) dollars would run $33,000,000. With the dike protecting 1,730 acres in New Bedford, Fairhaven, and Acushnet, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates $31,800,000 of the damage would be eliminated by the barrier.
Scenes like this Hurricane Carol aftermath at Hathaway-Braley Wharf in Fairhaven no longer.
"These are a few of the fascinating facts about the biggest thing-literally-to happen in New Bedford in many years, possibly in all the city's history. "
This is the New Bedford-Fairhaven Hurricane Protection Barrier.
ENTER photo above or here for the complete booklet and other memorabilia
From the first shovelful of earth removed Nov 17, 1962 to dedication ceremonies May 21, 1966, nearly 1,000,000 man-hours of labor, planning, testing, and finishing went into the project.
Now it is finished.
Industry sees it as protection against costly flood damage to low-lying factories, and as an incentive to new firms to locate here.
The city's important fishing fleet sees the dike as creating the safest harbor on the East Coast, a place to safely ride out the worst fury Nature can dish up. Residents of homes on the waterfront look on the dike as the end of an era of flooded houses and battered boats washed onto their lawns. For the pleasure boat industry, it looks like the needed impetus to develop the harbor into a fine anchorage for the lucrative yachting crowd.(above: This vintage 1962 film shows the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier under construction during it's earliest phase. Coffer dams (below) were built and later pumped out to begin the complex construction of the control towers and gate assembly 40ft down to the bedrock below the surface of the Acushnet River outer entrance near Palmer's Island and Fort Phoenix.)
The dike represented a long uphill battle by the city officials, industrialists, and waterfront interests for protection from damages caused by the hurricanes of
1938, 1944, and 1954. It was originally proposed as breakwaters outside the harbor in 1948. First major encouragement came in 1957, when the Corps of Engineers approved the construction project and recommended it to Congress.
Problems, mostly financial, beset the project. Local officials thought they were required to pay too much of the cost, the State thought it's share was too high. But some people just wouldn't quit, and the problems were ironed out. The dike cost an estimated $18,700,000. The Federal Government paid all but $7,000,000. Of the non-federal share, the State pays $3,500,000, New Bedford $3,150,000, Fairhaven $315,000, and Acushnet $35,000, according to engineer figures. But in earlier years before ground was actually broken, inaction, congressional fund cuts, and red tape threatened to bury the project before it started.
Finally the day came: November 17, 1962. (Above) Six spades-full of earth were turned, one each by Mayor Harrington; William H. Potter; chairman of the New Bedford-Fairhaven Hurricane Protection Project Committee; Representative Hastings Keith (R-Mass); State Senator Antone D. Silva (D-New Bedford); Colonel Peter C. Hyzer, division engineer, New England Division Army Corps of Engineers, and the late Charles J. Lewin, editor and general manager of The Standard-Times.
Now it is finished, and for those who like statistics, here is what is being dedicated at the May 21ceremony at Marine Park.
There are 899,000 tons of granite rock, carried to the site from a Dartmouth quarry. The rocks on the ocean side are as big as autos and weigh from 2.75 to 4.5 tons each. The sector gate structures and abutments , some 44,800 cubic yards of concrete were dumped and shaped. Some 72,000 barrels of cement are in the entire structure, the Engineers said.
Besides the two channel sector gates - above (93 foot arc length, 59-feet in height, 900 tons total weight), there are three street gates. 1. Cove Road - 18.6 tons; 2. West Rodney French Blvd-14 tons; 3. East Rodney French Blvd 21.4 tons.
Here are the vital statistics about length: Over-all length about 18,000 feet; main harbor barrier-4,500 feet; shore dike-4,600 feet; Clark's Cove Dike-5,800 feet; Fairhaven Dike-3,100 feet.
Beneath the harbor wall, two gated conduits permit water to circulate from the inner harbor to the outer harbor, to relieve the pressure of the water rushing in through the channel opening. These gates can be closed during hurricane weather. While the gates-the main ones-were being installed, the main harbor channel had to be blocked. A $2,899,000 cofferdam had to be built at the gate sites, and water pumped out to permit gate construction. The bypass channel on the Fairhaven side of the cofferdam, was 4,500 feet long., 200-feet wide and 30-feet deep.
(Above) Long-time Fairhaven water front resident Peter Jarosik recalls photo: "That (vessel in lower part of photo) belonged to the North Atlantic Dredging Co. It is seen here dredging the by pass channel so they could build the barrier. This was a hydraulic dredge that had floats on the stern with a pipe line to carry the mud .The name of the dredge was the "Scrod". I was on it when I was a kid" DCR Archive Photo
Some 800,000 cubic yards of material were removed to carve out the bypass channel. About 3/4 of this material was stockpiled and later used for core fill.
The big gates were successfully tested last Summer, and the cofferdam, comprised of steel cells,was torn down. The sector gates are operated electrically by 25-horsepower engines and elaborate gear trains with a reduction ratio of 1,800-to-1. Diesel auxiliary power generating equipment at the gates houses insure operating capacity even if conventional power supplies are blacked out.
Value of the big gates is estimated at $856,000. At Clark's Cove, (photo below) a pumping station with four vertical propeller pumps stands ready to discharge excessive interior drainage and sewage.
Each pump can move 55,000 gallons of water a minute. this station also has an emergency power supply. Lights will be installed on the dike, and recreational opportunities will be offered to the people here.
Parking is to be provided, and fishing or just plain strolling along the dike is to be welcomed. The giant sector gates each ride on six 27-inch diameter wheels, each 7 inches wide, when opening or closing. They can be shut in 12 minutes. The channel between the gates is 150-feet wide and 30 feet deep at low water level. Operation of the gates is the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers. Corps officials of the New England Division will decide whether to shut the gates after studying Weather Bureau reports and predictions.
By agreement with city, waterfront, and industry officials, the Engineers plan to shut the gates when tides rise 4 feet above mean high water level. This level is a test level, and could later be revised if found too high or too low.
Take a look inside and go under the harbor through the tunnel!
New Bedford enjoys its reputation as a "safe harbor" thanks to the Hurricane Barrier. The stone and steel barrier extends across the mouth of New Bedford Harbor to the Fairhaven side near Fort Phoenix.
It is 9,100 feet long and twenty feet above median sea level. The harbor section has two 440-ton gates in the center that can be closed during strong tides or storms to protect the inner harbor. The western section protects the city from tidal surges in Clark's Cove.
This clip taken from the 1988-M.L.Baron award winning classic: "A Wind To Shake The World; The Story of The 1938 Hurricane. This was the video version of Everett S. Allen's 1976 Best Seller, chronicling the '38 Hurricane.
From the historic archives of the West Island Weather Station.
The top of the barrier provides a walkway for recreational activities. Residents and visitors can watch the coming and going of commercial vessels and pleasure boats, or enjoy spectacular views of the harbor, city scape, and Buzzards Bay. Built in the 1960's by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Hurricane Barrier is the largest stone structure on the East Coast.
In 2011 the Army Corps of Engineers conducted an extensive evaluation of the barrier and found it to be structurally sound.
In a recent Standard-Times article , an idea to make the barrier more recreational friendly and a tourist attraction has sparked interest.
MLBaron posted a response to this article:
A great concept that is long over due. The recreational aspects of the barrier are well documented in the early planning stages of it's construction. One of the original ideas discussed was to construct the barrier from Clark's Point in New Bedford's South End to the tip of Wilbur's Point in Fairhaven. This would have enclosed more of the outer harbor including the narrow peninsula of Sconticut Neck (which may have required a sea wall on the east side as well.) Some of the factors going against this concept may have included the cost of construction in deeper water, the topography of the sea floor and the over all property value that would have been protected. Al least two debates perpetuate today. Could the barrier increase a tidal surge to Sconticut Neck in a hurricane? (some studies have shown vague results) Would this project ever have gotten off the ground today enclosing an entire harbor with the invasive disturbance to the wetlands and coastal environment? With the strict environmental laws now in place that were virtually non-existent in the early 60's.this idea would have been laughed at. It is also historically important to note that The Standard-Times and it's top officials were one of the key supporters of the barrier's construction through a series of editorials and direct involvement in the planning committees. At the time (1957) New Bedford factories and businesses were exhausted from a series of 3 major hurricanes in less than 16 years.
Routine Maintenance New Bedford Hurricane Barrier
Ongoing maintenance project at the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, June 4, 2012. The hurricane barrier in New Bedford and Fairhaven, Mass., on the navigation gates. The work includes replacement of wheels on the gates, steel repair, fender replacement, concrete repairs and painting. So far, the contractor has dewatered the Fairhaven gate and continues removing sediment from the floor of the gate pocket by using a combination of vacuum truck, clamshell bucket and hand shoveling to remove sediment. The gates remain functional and the maintenance project should be completed by mid-July. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photos) More photos enter HERE.
To hail the Hurricane Barrier from a vessel go to VHF Marine Channel 13
DO YOU KNOW IF YOU LIVE IN A FLOOD ZONE? ENTER FEMA LINK BELOW:
Compiled by MLBaron of The West Island Weather Station -
MLBaron Historic Archives
OTHER SUBJECT RELATED LINKS ON THIS SITE:
Carol, the first named Hurricane to impact the northeast arrived Tuesday, August 31, 1954. 10 days later another hurricane struck. Edna on September 11., causing more localized damage down Cape Cod. This album (above) under construction. A large cache of never before seen photos is being sorted and identified for this exciting new album! From the MLBaron Historic Archives.
VINTAGE HURRICANE SOUVENIR PHOTO BOOKS