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Article Published January 13, 2021

Sea Wall Replacement at Garvan Point Sparks Concerns About Loss of Land

By Jesse Williams/

Degradation and deterioration of a seawall at Garvan Point is sparking conversations about sea level rise at the Surf Club, with officials looking at a possible replacement or revamp of the current structure, which could eliminate some of the picnic and scenic spots in that area at a cost of up to $1.1 million.

Beach & Recreation Department Director Scot Erskine said there was a potential to lose “real estate up to the flagpole” at the area around the west end of the Surf Club depending on what kind of replacement the town chooses, with a handful of options regarding how to address the aging structure.

“It’s holding. It’s not going to collapse but it’s showing its age,” Erskine said.

The three options the town is considering are a concrete wall, a sloped revetment wall (typically made of stone or concrete blocks), or a hybrid revetment that includes a sheet pile, which is a wall of sheet materials pile-driven into place. The concrete wall would be more expensive but would not reduce the picnic and recreation area at the point, while other options would likely shrink that area to various degrees.

“When we walked out there, I was kind of like, ‘This is kind of a lot of land to lose at one of the most popular picnic places in Madison,’” said First Selectman Peggy Lyons.

Stratford-based Race Consulting has been working on the town with engineering designs, according to Erskine. The Coastal Resiliency Committee recommended the hybrid option, and Erskine said he was hoping to get Race to provide the town with engineering designs for that model.

A hybrid wall would also likely be significantly more expensive than a revetment barrier, Erskine said, and that the price of the sheet pile addition “kind of shocked me a little bit.”

The $1.1 million estimate is for the concrete wall, Erskine said, but said the town was waiting on Race to provide numbers for the other options.

In the town’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the town wrote that an engineering firm recommended a full replacement due the current wall, saying it “will eventually fail, leaving Garvan Point exposed to storm surges and wave action.”

Erksine said that he did not have a timeline for how long construction might take on any new wall, but said the town would aim to start the project in the fall to avoid disruption of beach season. Currently, the project is scheduled for 2022-’23 on the CIP schedule.

Examining the seawall issue has brought up other problem areas related to sea level rise. Town Planner Dave Anderson said there are more projects likely to grow out of these concerns, including moving buildings back, beach nourishment, and bolstering of the coastline.

The Coastal Resiliency Committee has been involved in the process to some degree, and Anderson added that the seawall should fit into a larger plan for mitigating sea level rise.

“This is one of a multitude of projects that we should probably expect to start funding through CIP,” he said.

“I don’t want to lose any of the point if I can help it,” Erskine said. “It’s not my intention to lose any real estate if we can effectively do it...It’s going to be an ongoing problem at the Surf Club as the sea level rises, just to give everybody a head’s up. We’re losing beach every year.”

Grants, many of which close in February and others that close in the fall, could potentially offset these costs, according to Emergency Management Director Sam DeBurra. Likely the town would need a 25 percent match on these grants, he said.