Salt marsh restoration aims to alleviate flooding in Beach St. area
WEST HAVEN — The city is coordinating with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to remove beach sand that is restricting the outflow of water from the salt marsh at Sandy Point into Long Island Sound.
Mayor John M. Picard said the effort is aimed at reducing the scope and frequency of flooding experienced by residents in the neighborhoods bordering the salt marsh.
To minimize the potential of future flood damage from tidal surge in the area of the West Walk condominiums, the city plans to use some of the harvested beach sand to fortify the barrier berm.
The city hopes to replenish other public beach areas with the sand as well, according to Assistant City Engineer Gregory H. Pidluski.
West Haven’s nearly 4-mile stretch of beach comprises 25 percent of the public beaches in Connecticut.
Pidluski said the process of removing the sand is expected to take awhile because of environmental and wildlife concerns at Sandy Point.
The multiphase project, which should qualify for federal funding, is in the design and approval stage and is anticipated to begin in the coming months, Picard said.
The Sandy Point estuary, featured on the Connecticut Coastal Birding Trail, is designated an “important bird area” by Audubon Connecticut and is home to endangered shorebirds, including the piping plover and other species that migrate from as far away as South America.
For decades, eroding city beaches have been steered to Sandy Point by underwater currents. The accumulation of sand in the area, known as the Old Field Creek Watershed, has barricaded the salt marsh, preventing it from draining properly, and has formed sandbars that jut into New Haven Harbor, posing a hazard for boaters.
The salt marsh’s lack of drainage is the crux of the widespread flooding issues that have plagued property owners in the Beach Street area, from Third to Campbell avenues, in recent years.
To develop a course of action, Mayor John M. Picard, Public Works Commissioner Beth A. Sabo, U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, and members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers met with area residents in July to lay the groundwork for an aggressive flood mitigation plan to restore the salt marsh to its natural function.
“To keep the line of communication open, we have scheduled several meetings with residents to seek their ideas, coupled with those of the engineering experts involved, to facilitate a solution to the flooding that has crippled these neighborhoods for so long,” Picard said. “I am hopeful that we will formulate a plan that will safeguard these residences for future generations.”
In a preliminary analysis of the watershed prepared by Pidluski and submitted July 17, the flooding in the area is attributed to the dysfunctional salt marsh and tidal surge. The elevation of neighborhoods near Third Avenue, which are below FEMA’s 100-year flood elevation, is also a factor, he noted.
Pidluski’s analysis was based in part on a 1996 study, “Preliminary Engineering Study, Old Field Creek and Cove River, West Haven, Connecticut,” which was prepared by Milone & MacBroom Inc. of Cheshire.
For reasons unknown, the study, initiated under the previous administration, was not fully utilized.
Pidluski’s recommendations to rectify the watershed’s long-standing flooding problems include removing accumulated sand where the salt marsh discharges into the Sound; inspecting, maintaining and adjusting floodgates; removing channel obstructions to improve the flow of stormwater and tidewater; and controlling phragmites, an invasive plant species.
Pidluski also recommends the regular maintenance of storm sewers that discharge into the salt marsh.
During the past six months, city officials have met with members of the West Haven Watershed Association regarding the issues at Sandy Point.
Officials, including members of the Inland Wetlands Agency, have also held meetings with residents of the lower Lake Phipps neighborhood to address flood-prone areas in the Cove River Watershed.
Pidluski said the city aims to implement a balanced outflow to decrease the flow of stormwater from the Cove River, near Painter Drive, into the Sound.
Plans call for reinforcing the westerly channel, near Lake Avenue, to support the increased flow and repairing the existing erosion damage along the stream bank.
— MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Information Officer