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CT Construction Digest Wednesday August 3, 2022

New Haven, Army Corps offer major solutions to potential flooding problems likely to grow worse over time

Mark Zaretsky

NEW HAVEN — What if 20 years from now, a storm like Irene or Sandy — or worse — strikes after sea level has risen a few more inches?

Wedged between the tidal forces of a storm — and storm surge — coming off Long Island Sound and heavy drainage from a downtown that floods in spots during heavy rains are Interstate 95 and the Amtrak and Metro-North railroad tracks, two of busiest commuter transportation systems in the country.

In the rail yard behind Union Station, which is home to a maintenance garage, are billions of dollars in railroad equipment.

How do we protect them?

The City Engineer’s Office, working with the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and various state offices, has been working on that problem now for nearly a decade, according to City Engineer Giovanni Zinn and Assistant City Engineer Dawn Henning.

They came up with some big solutions to what conceivably could be huge problems in the future.

“Nine years ago, we came up with this conceptual strategy” and now two major projects are just about ready to move forward, which they expect will considerably lesson the city’s risk:

  One major resilience project, being advanced by the Army Corpswill build a flood wall along sections of Long Wharf — which was created in the late 1950s by filling low-lying marshland during the construction of I-95 — to enhance and augment the existing I-95 embankment and install a heavy-duty pump station to control flooding during a major storm.

The project, already funded by Congress after the Army Corps first approached the city in 2018, will cost a cool $160 million, with the pump station to be constructed across from Il Gabbiano, the restaurant that used to be Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale.

Interstate 95 is the primary barrier to flooding from the harbor. But the project will add a flood wall from the nature preserve in the southwest to beyond the Canal Dock Boathouse. There also will be five floodgates at the three I-95 underpasses and the exit and entrance ramps, officials have said.

The pump station would help deal with any water that gets past the wall.

  For the other project, the city has applied through the Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security for a $35.8 million FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, grant with a 20 minimum local match. It would involve installation of a large, 10-foot stormwater “micro-tunnel” from Union Avenue to New Haven Harbor to address inland flooding in the Downtown, Hill and Long Wharf neighborhoods.

Among other things, it would protect a 600-plus acre storm sewer shed, or drainage area, with an outfall near the Boathouse at Canal Dock, said Zinn. Part of the problem is that what used to essentially be on the ocean at Union Avenue and Water Street “now has to go another 3,000 feet.”

To help that along “we settled on a really big drainage pipe” that would be about 45 feet deep at West Water Street and Union Avenue by the Police Department, letting gravity help get the water into New Haven Harbor through two outfall pipes, Zinn said.

Henning said the micro-tunnel would start near West River Street and the Knights of Columbus parking area and tunnel under the rail yard, the Brewery Street post office and across Brewery Street out to New Haven Harbor.

Union Avenue already floods near Union Station and Police Headquarters during “intense rain storm,” Henning told the City Plan Commission.

Zinn said Thursday that he has seen it happen “several times since 2014,” when he arrived in his city job.

He estimated that the project they’re working on could double the drainage capacity in that area.

Union Station is used by more than 700,000 Amtrak customers and more than 1 million Metro-North users every year and supports the only rail connection between New York City and Boston.

Henning presented both plans recently to the City Plan Commission, which was asked to make recommendations to the Board of Alders, which is being asked to authorize Mayor Justin Elicker to sign documents to accept funds.

The City Plan Commission unanimously approved both requests.

Henning told the City Plan Commission that to lessen the chance of flooding, the city already has installed 178 “bioswales” in downtown New Haven over the past several years. Bioswales are garden-like vegetated channels designed to divert or detain and concentrate stormwater runoff while removing debris and pollution.

The EPA predicts that in the coming years the intensity of storms is going to increase and the volume of rain is going to increase, Henning said Friday.

She said of the proposals being looked at, “All of them lower the risk” and would provide “ a very high level of protection.”

The Long Wharf flood wall is designed to adequately handle a 100-year storm, which is a storm for which there is a one in 100 chance that it could happen in any given year, Henning said.

“The tunnel from downtown is being designed to mitigate flooding for up to the 10-year, 24-hour storm,” she said. “The tunnel plus the pump station will give us a high level of protection.”

“Over the last decade, the catastrophic flooding in Connecticut’s coastal areas have upended lives, destroyed homes and businesses, and completely reshaped the shoreline,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said when funding for the Long Wharf was announced in January 2022.

“There is very little we can do to prevent natural disasters from occurring, but we can — and must — be proactive about preparing for them and minimizing the damage,” DeLauro said. The project will create construction jobs and save on cleanup costs and losses from water damage, she added.

CT officials are targeting sewer pollution with $580 million in grants to cities and towns

Ken Dixon

Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday announced $580 million in clean-water grants to upgrade sewer systems and waste-water treatment facilities throughout the state.

Funding for the 18 prioritized projects will be spread out over two years, and includes $73 million in federal infrastructure financing for New Haven and Hartford-area communities serviced by the Metropolitan District Commission, as well as projects in Norwich, Ridgefield, Litchfield, West Haven and Plainfield.

“The projects on this list, infused with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help our cities and towns to properly manage and treat their wastewater, and in turn help make our waterways cleaner,” Lamont said in a statement. “These projects will also mobilize many good-paying jobs and strengthen supply chains as construction gets underway.”

“Properly managing our wastewater and ensuring we have sufficient infrastructure to do so is an essential part of being good stewards of our environment,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in a joint statement. “These projects will help to keep our waterways clean and contribute to the beauty and health of our natural resources and the incredible quality of life we enjoy in Connecticut.”

Dykes and Lamont praised the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. “Not only will these projects improve wastewater management systems across the state and protect our state’s waterways, they will also create good construction jobs for Connecticut residents,” said the state’s congressional delegation.

Included in the funding is $10 million to complete a project to remove nitrogen from waste water at New Haven’s Water Pollution Control Facility; $75 million to address storm and sanitary sewers lines in New Haven’s Orchard Street, Yale and Trumbull Street neighborhoods as well as the East Street pump station; $38 million to replace an outfall line at the West Haven sewage plant; and $7 million to upgrade the Litchfield plant.

Ten million dollars has been approved to permanently close a small sewage treatment facility in Ridgefield, DEEP officials said.

The largest single award will be $156 million for an upgrade of Norwich’s Water Pollution Control Facility, although in aggregate, the MDA will receive more funding: a total of $279 million for projects in Hartford, East Hartford and Rocky Hill.

State Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, co-chairman of the legislative Environment Committee, said Tuesday that he is hoping that Stratford and Bridgeport can soon get in line for funding. He noted that Bridgeport’s West End facility, where storm water from combined sanitary and storm sewage result in overflows into Black Rock Harbor and nearby Ash Creek, are responsible for nearby beach closures.

Stalled for years, nearly $5 million turf field project gets new life in Norwalk

Abigail Brone

NORWALK — Nearly three years after the plans were drafted, the redesign of Broad River Park’s baseball fields is fully funded through a state grant.

The State Bond Commission last week approved $4.5 million to refurbish five Norwalk parks and playgrounds, including completing the funding necessary for the Broad River remodeling.

The Broad River Park project was first proposed around three years ago, and funded with $2.5 million in city capital appropriations, Norwalk Recreation and Park Superintendent Ken Hughes said.

“We went through design and had the design almost completed and realized the cost was quite a bit above $2.5 million, more along the lines of $4 to $5 million,” Hughes said. “We put that on the shelf because we didn’t have the funding.”

Through the state bonding, an additional $2 million was allotted for construction costs and the project can move forward, Hughes said.

Around February 2021, the city realized the higher-than-anticipated cost of flipping the fields. For years leading up to Friday’s final funding approval, the fields at Broad River were plagued with drainage issues and safety concerns for the players.

Broad River Park is the site of Norwalk’s Little League games and sees frequent use, Hughes said.

“Norwalk gets a lot of use out of those two fields,” Hughes said.

The scope of the new park will include converting the existing clay fields to turf and adding a third turf field, Hughes said. However, with a multi-year delay between design and construction, the site plans will be revisited.

“Currently, there are two ballfields at Broad River going to be converted to three. We’re replacing the playground, increasing parking, adding a concession stand and bathrooms,” Hughes said. “We have to sit back down with the designer to go over the plans again, then they’ll have to do a new cost estimate because things changed over the last couple years in terms of pricing. Then we’ll adjust the pricing to fit within the allocated monies and then start the procurement process.”

It will be a while before the fields are converted and complete, as the city needs to go through several rounds of approval of cost and hiring of firms to conduct the construction, Hughes said.

“Being that the plans are two-plus years old, we will have to update things based on the current economy,” Hughes said.

The remaining $2.5 million from the state grant will go toward upgrades at Irving Freese Park, Ludlow Park, Brookside Elementary and Veteran’s Park, according to a statement from state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

“Improved fields at Broad River will reduce costly maintenance and allow for the possibility of regional tournaments on the fields,” Duff said. “(Friday’s) state bonding funds will close the funding gap with already budgeted city funds.”

It will be a while before the fields are converted and complete, as the city needs to go through several rounds of approval of cost and hiring of firms to conduct the construction, Hughes said.

“Being that the plans are two-plus years old, we will have to update things based on the current economy,” Hughes said.

The remaining $2.5 million from the state grant will go toward upgrades at Irving Freese Park, Ludlow Park, Brookside Elementary and Veteran’s Park, according to a statement from state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

“Improved fields at Broad River will reduce costly maintenance and allow for the possibility of regional tournaments on the fields,” Duff said. “(Friday’s) state bonding funds will close the funding gap with already budgeted city funds.”

Norwich City Council sends $385 million school construction project to voters

Claire Bessette

Norwich ― The City Council unanimously endorsed the entire $385 million proposed school construction project Monday night, following an hour-long public hearing that featured mixed opinions and passionate pleas from school officials that city schools face catastrophic mechanical and structural failures.

With the vote, the council rejected an alternative $255 million plan proposed last week by Mayor Peter Nystrom that would have built the proposed four new elementary schools, while delaying a $99 million renovation of the aging Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School and a $25 million renovation of the Samuel Huntington School to house adult education and administrative offices.

Several speakers warned the scaled down plan would leave the system with inequitable education facilities. Norwich would have four new elementary schools, the recently renovated Kelly Middle School ― where the council meeting was held in an air-conditioned auditorium ― and the “substandard” Teachers’ Memorial School, said Mark Bettencourt, chairman of the School Building Committee.

School board Chairman Robert Aldi and Vice Chairman Mark Kulos stressed that while the total cost is $385 million, city taxpayers would pay $150 million after a 67% state reimbursement. If the plan fails to win voter approval, the city faces a projected $225 million cost to just to repair the failing schools’ mechanical systems, with no renovations, upgrades and no state reimbursement for those costs.

“One of the biggest goals the committee had was parity so that our students all had equal opportunities in the school system. That would leave Teachers’ with grossly unequal facilities,” Bettencourt said about the $255 million plan.

Teachers’ Memorial head custodian Joseph Juber urged council members to visit the school to view the decaying ceilings, roof, walls and stairs and “get that fixed now.”

The $385 million plan aldermen has now sent to the voters for a November referendum calls for building new schools on the grounds of the John B. Stanton, Uncas and John Moriarty elementary schools and one at the site of the former Greeneville School and other contiguous land owned by the city.

Once the new schools are completed, students would move in, and the old buildings would be demolished, and displaced sports fields and playgrounds built in their spots. Huntington, Veterans’ Memorial, Wequonnoc and Mahan schools would close. Wequonnoc could become a virtual learning center, and Huntington would get a $25 million renovation to house central offices and adult education.

Teachers’ Memorial would undergo a complete, $99 million renovation in the costliest portion of the project.

A tax impact statement presented to the council by city Comptroller Josh Pothier showed the project would require an average 4.56 mills in taxes in the first 10 years, an increase of nearly $500 for the owner of a median priced single-family home. But project supporters pointed out the calculation did not take into account the closure of three school buildings, savings by expanding in-house special education programs and having energy efficient, new schools.

Speakers opposing the project cited the cost and impact to taxpayers during the current inflation and a possible looming recession.

Resident John Rynkiewicz, Jr. called the plan to build four new schools, “crazy,” and complained that aldermen will not listen to taxpayers.

“You should use what you have now and make the repairs that should have been done all these past years,” Rynkiewicz said.

Several local union carpenters supported the project and urged the council to include a provision that a 20 or 30% of the subcontractors hired be local, union workers, including local apprentices.