That sinking feeling: No support for flood wall concept from shoreline residents
Building a wall to curb flooding at Fairfield Beach during severe storms failed to win waves of support at Thursday’s forum hosted by the town’s Flood and Erosion Control Board.
The wall was proposed at an elevation of 12 feet and would run from the Jacky Durrell Pavilion to the town’s wastewater treatment plant outfall, or between 345 and 1094 Fairfield Beach Road. By comparison, Fairfield Beach Road now is mostly at an elevation of six feet and Penfield Beach at an elevation of about 10 feet, according to Albert F. Grauer, the board chairman.
In one scenario, the wall would run along the beach in front of homes closest to the shoreline. In the other scenario, it would run behind those homes. Grauer said town officials estimate that a wall between the Jacky Durrell Pavilion and wastewater treatment plant outfall would cost approximately $5 million.
“I would strongly object to it,” said Jane Purcell, who owns a home in the 900 block of Fairfield Beach Road. Purcell said the wall likely would cause property values in the area to decline and that it wouldn’t be very effective because her property is around elevation 12 and water surged above it during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Paige Herman, president of the Fairfield Beach Residents Association and a resident of Fairfield Beach Road for 68 years, suggested instead that homeowners build sand dunes in front of their properties and predicted “a lot of opposition” to construction of a wall.
Herman said she had a sand dune in front of her home before Sandy struck and credited it with absorbing the storm’s first tidal blow. “I think a sand dune that is properly vegetated is a strong thing,” she said. “People say it’s a Band-Aid, but it’s a Band-Aid I was glad to have for Superstorm Sandy.”
“I think that first initial blow the shoreline took, my sand dune took it,” Herman said.
Herman added, though, that the sand dune ended up in her back yard and that she hired someone with a bulldozer to return it to her front yard. She said she doesn’t think sand dunes are the solution to flooding threats, but believes that a wall is not either.
Bryan T. Cafferelli, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 10, asked whether building up Penfield Beach with sand would be a viable idea.
No one who spoke at Thursday’s forum said they like the idea of building a flood-prevention wall.
In response to Purcell, Grauer said a wall at elevation 12 would not provide “total protection” to homes in the flood plain. He said it may lead to only a foot of water on Fairfield Beach Road in a storm instead of five feet of water.
Grauer later said his board thought a wall at elevation 12 would be tolerable for homeowners. “If you’re at elevation 10 at your house, it’s a two-foot wall. If you’re at elevation eight, it’s a four-foot wall,” he said. “This is not something anyone is trying to jam down your throats.”
Grauer said a sand dune could be washed out and didn’t seem to think adding sand to the beach would be as effective as a wall in preventing flooding. “Sand is probably your least stable land mass in the world and is easily moved by storms,” he said.
However, Richard S. Dmochowski, a member of the Flood and Erosion Control Board, indicated sand dunes in front of shoreline homes could have some value. “If you have a dune, it’s going to take some energy out of that wave action,” he said.
Other speakers suggested building structures, such as dikes, groins or jetties, in Long Island Sound to break the power of waves in severe storms. Grauer said his board hadn’t specifically looked into those options, but added later that the only effective remedy to prevent flooding would be elevation.
A wall built either in front of or behind shoreline homes would have to be on private property, which raised the possibility of the town taking land by eminent domain for those options.
Brad Purcell asked whether the Flood and Erosion Control Board had considered what would be involved if the town were to invoke eminent domain to build a wall. He added that given Federal Emergency Management Agency and town Zoning Department regulations, the idea of a wall may be akin to “fighting yesterday’s battle.”
Alyssa Israel of Rowland Road said elevating homes at the beach likely would be the best solution.
But Grauer said elevating homes wouldn’t stop flooding and that his board is trying to protect the entire floodplain, which he said amounts to some 3,200 homes, many of which are not directly on the shoreline. He said his board hadn’t considered the implications of domain.
Other speakers said renderings of what the wall would look like would go a long way toward helping shoreline homeowners understand its potential impact on their neighborhood.
Dru Georgiadis, who lives at the corner of Birch and Puritan roads, questioned whether the Flood and Erosion Control Board is ultimately fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature. “Do you honestly believe you can stop the floodwaters?” she asked. “Water is a very powerful thing. If your objective is to stop, is that possible? Is your goal truly achievable?”
Grauer replied, “We happen to think it is possible to control floodwaters.”