By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
During a news conference Monday at the Savin Rock gazebo, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mayor Nancy R. Rossi discussed key victories for West Haven’s beaches in the recently approved America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, including millions in federal aid for the city’s coastline.
The Senate approved the sprawling bill — legislation authorizing more than $6 billion in spending over 10 years for water infrastructure projects nationwide — on Oct. 10. The bipartisan measure, approved 99-1, was formerly known as the Water Resources Development Act.
West Haven’s shoreline was severely eroded by Superstorm Sandy, making private and public infrastructure vulnerable to future weather events.
Blumenthal and Rossi, who huddled with reporters under the gazebo and a pop-up tent amid the wind-blown rain, were joined at the morning announcement by state Reps. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven, and Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, and Councilman Aaron Charney, D-3.
In early June, Borer heralded $3.9 million in state funding for a new Cove River tide gate system to mitigate flooding and protect the tidal wetland, which abuts the campus of West Haven High School.
During the news conference, Connecticut’s senior senator said he fought for essential provisions in the bill benefiting the state, including measures to safeguard West Haven’s beaches from future storm damage. The provisions were also supported by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3.
“Connecticut really has been at the forefront of restoration and resilience,” Blumenthal said. “Resiliency is as important in Florida, in Georgia and the Carolinas as it is in Connecticut, and we are leading the way. What West Haven is doing with the great leadership of our mayor is important as a national model.”
As the Florida Panhandle begins its long recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Michael, Blumenthal also talked about why efforts to prepare the state’s coastlines for more frequent, more extreme weather are more vital than ever.
“We have to be better prepared and more resilient,” he said.
Under the water infrastructure legislation, the city is expected to receive “$3 million to $7 million” in federal funding to build berms, or dunes, along the shoreline, Blumenthal said.
“The dunes and berms of West Haven are a perfect example of how both the beauty and protective value of our shoreline needs to be rebuilt and preserved,” he said.
The next step, according to Blumenthal, is for the Army Corps of Engineers to study the scope of the federal project to determine the cost and how much money the city will receive.
“The additional language in the bill provides for funding for flood mitigation efforts right here — from the shoreline behind the conference center, behind West Walk and east from there,” said Rossi, who commended city grants writer Eileen M. Krugel for facilitating the grant application and helping to secure the funding for the project.
“Some elements of what had been called the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act are now incorporated into the current water infrastructure legislation,” Rossi said. “Long Island Sound restoration and stewardship is important to West Haven because we are one of many shoreline municipalities that directly impact the water quality of Long Island Sound.”
West Haven prides itself on being home to the longest stretch of publicly accessible shoreline in Connecticut. The city’s nearly 4-mile tract of beach on the Sound comprises 25 percent of the state’s public beaches, a valuable asset that is ripe for attracting new businesses to West Haven, Rossi has said.
Krugel has said the federal funding would finance the construction of beach berms from the Savin Rock Conference Center on Rock Street to Beach Street and Morse Avenue, a distance of about a mile.
While some beach areas have berms, particularly along Beach Street, the funding “would provide uniformed berms that would include protective grasses, fencing and berm crossovers preventing degradation by pedestrians,” Krugel has said.
“These berms would provide a protective measure in West Haven’s resiliency efforts,” Krugel has said, adding that the project would complement the new tide gates as part of the city’s Coastal Resilience Plan.
Officials have said the gates are vital to the preservation and restoration of the Cove River tidal wetland. When functioning, they are designed to protect the surrounding infrastructure and restore tidal flushing of the 90-acre marsh without flooding upland property, including homes, businesses and West Haven High, which is undergoing a $130 million reconstruction.
The gates, however, have been deemed “nonfunctioning” for the past 45 years, officials have said.
On Oct. 29, 2012, the surge of Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed the tide gates and flooded the high school’s ballfields and track, prompting city officials to seek state funding to safeguard the area from a similar flooding event.
Officials have said the berm project would also complement the $14.5 million reconstruction of a section of Beach Street and First Avenue that was 5 feet underwater during Sandy.
The federal and state project, originally estimated at $8.5 million, has increased by $6 million because soil tests showed a subsurface of peat, Krugel has said.
The project includes raising a 4,000-foot stretch of First Avenue and Beach Street from Monahan Place, near the wastewater treatment plant, to Morse Avenue, near the former Chick’s Drive-in restaurant.
Elevations will range from 2 to 5 feet, based on existing topography, City Engineer Abdul Quadir has said.
During Sandy, the Water Pollution Control Plant, 2 Beach St., was inaccessible to staff and emergency vehicles for nearly 12 hours because of extensive flooding.
In the storm’s wake, the city has taken steps to make it more resilient to tidal flooding and coastal storms, including dredging the Old Field Creek salt marsh near Beach Street, thanks to federal funding to help Connecticut municipalities like West Haven make such improvements.
The raising of Beach Street is being paid for in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.
The project also includes the construction of concrete sidewalks and a two-way bike lane for future connection to a regional shoreline bikeway system, Assistant City Planner David W. Killeen has said.