Historic Lawrence Canals in Danger

Report highlights ongoing risks as Enel evades responsibility

Lawrence, MA in the Merrimack Valley

A section of the historic canals in Lawrence. Photo: Bethany Kwoka

August 13, 2019 (BOSTON, MA) – According to a new report from the City of Lawrence, the city’s historic canals pose a high risk to public safety, with sections in danger of collapse. The report comes after last week’s ruling from a division of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fails to properly hold a Lawrence hydroelectric facility accountable for its responsibilities to the community.

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the City of Lawrence, and community partners filed a complaint against Enel Green Power North America in 2017 arguing that the company has neglected its responsibility in protecting the canals.

“This is just one more example of big corporations neglecting cities like Lawrence,” said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. “These crumbling canals are a huge risk to public safety and Enel has done nothing to make them safe or clean up this eyesore. We are concerned that Enel will take the FERC decision as a signal to abandon ownership of the canals, but we will continue to hold them responsible for disregard for our city.”

“Enel continues to extract from the city of Lawrence while refusing to protect these historic canals,” said CLF attorney Phelps Turner. “While the ruling will force the company to improve its practices, it falls far short in ensuring this critical resource is no longer littered with trash and putting residents in danger. We’re looking at all of our options moving forward to hold Enel accountable for protecting this core piece of the Lawrence landscape.”

In its decision, FERC found that Enel is in compliance with its license, while outlining some steps required by Enel to meet safety and public access obligations. The complaint alleged that Essex Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America, violated its FERC license, which requires constant maintenance and upkeep of the canals. CLF has been working alongside the City of Lawrence, Groundwork Lawrence, Lawrence CommunityWorks, and area mill owners in helping to restore this treasured resource.

The city’s report details the poor condition of the aging and neglected wall system and identifies a number of deteriorated and unstable sections that are at risk of imminent collapse. The report calls for these dangerous sections of the walls to be rebuilt. Delaying these critical canal repairs puts the residents of Lawrence at continued risk.

Experts are available for further comment.