$100M for flood control? Report reviews options on turning the tide
Defending the town’s shoreline neighborhood against the wrath of Mother Nature won’t be easy — or cheap.
The Board of Selectmen last week reviewed a report on flood prevention south of the Old Post Road and Oldfield Road during severe storms and the hurdles it outlined are formidable.
One of the proposals that garnered the most discussion — building a berm along Fairfield Beach Road —was estimated to cost from $50 million to $100 million, and would require taking private property by eminent domain because the town doesn’t own enough land for a berm, according to First Selectman Michael Tetreau. He said such a berm also would impede beach residents’ views by a project designed to prevent a storm that would occur once every 70 to 100 years.
“The magnitude of money is bigger than anything this town has ever funded before,” Tetreau said.
Albert F. Grauer, chairman of the town’s Flood and Erosion Control Board, which prepared the report, said, “If you think building schools is expensive, to do a certified flood wall would make building new schools look like nothing.”
Tetreau said the town’s current bonded debt is about $200 million. “This would be 50 percent of that to protect one neighborhood in one situation for something that happens once every 100 years … and people in the neighborhood unfairly would have to give up part of their land. Almost everybody would have to give up part of their view and access so it would change the fun part of living in the beach area for many of the folks down there,” he said.
Tetreay added, though, the town is seeking grants for flood-control measures to limit the expense that would be borne by local taxpayers.
Another difficulty with the berm, Tetreau said, would be its placement. “Unless you build it along the beach, there are going to be people that live south of the wall or the berm and that’s a little bit like deciding which of your kids you like least,” he said. He also questioned whether residents who live outside the flood plain should pay that much money on flood-control measures for residents who live at the beach.
Tetreau also stressed the town is “a long way from eminent domain.”
“Better you should go to the Board of Education and talk about redistricting,” he quipped to Selectman Sheila Marmion when she asked questions about eminent domain.
It appeared that the length of the berm would extend from the intersection of Beach and Fairfield Beach roads to the first “hump” on Fairfield Beach Road. It would be built at an elevation of 13 feet or more, but that doesn’t mean 13 feet above ground level. In the area by the Fairfield Beach Club, the berm would be about 7 feet from the ground, which would be shorter than an existing hedgerow and tennis court fence, according to the report.
Grauer said from 10 to 12 percent of town residents live in areas prone to flooding and that flood protection is “really not rocket science.”
“There’s really only one thing that stops flooding and it’s elevation,” Grauer said. “You have to have an elevation somewhere along the line. The top of Greenfield Hill is highly unlikely to flood, at least from storm water from the Sound. The low-lying beach areas, it’s a whole different story.”
Grauer said the Flood and Erosion Control Board favors natural solutions to prevent flooding instead of mechanical ones. “Anytime you get a mechanical device to control your flooding, you’re subject to failure, maintenance and replacement. We’re trying to look at something — build it once and walk away,” he said.
However, the board’s report, which divided the town’s shoreline neighborhood into 12 sections with flood-prevention recommendations for each, does include some mechanical solutions. Grauer said a stormwater pumping station near the Sandcastle playground at Jennings Beach that was estimated to cost $7 million “remains a priority,” but he does not see it going forward unless the town obtained a grant for it. “It’s big bucks,” he said.
Grauer said the town did obtain a $565,000 grant for a tide gate improvement project at Pine Creek that involves increasing the capacity of water to drain out of the neighborhood through larger pipes and enabling water to go into marshes through two self-regulating tide gates. He said the town also obtained a grant to build a dike around the wastewater treatment plant and that project was currently being studied. The overall cost was estimated at $3 million, with the town’s share at $154,400.
The Flood and Erosion Control Board presented conceptual plans to the Board of Selectmen in January and then scheduled three informational meetings with residents on the plans, one of which was snowed out, Grauer said. He said the meetings were well attended and most people favored some form of flood protection.
Grauer said the board plans to hold more informational meetings and to publicize them more widely because some attendees at earlier meetings said they heard about them only by word-of-mouth. He said the board also plans to hold small-group forums, create a survey, continue to seek grants and improve its website.
Grauer said the Flood and Erosion Control Board wants to protect as much land as possible from flooding in severe storms. “We look at the Sound as being the enemy and we want to confront it onshore or offshore,” he said. He said offshore protection could involve jetties and that elevating beaches by pouring more sand onto them is a possibility mentioned by state officials.
“You want to find compromises that are going to make everyone happy,” Grauer said.
The Flood and Erosion Control Board’s 78-page report is available on the town’s website, www.fairfieldct.org