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11/20/2023 04:42 PM

Downtown Streets to Undergo Flood Prevention Efforts


A point in Essex Village that has long been vulnerable to flooding will be elevated to prevent further damage and protect surrounding buildings with the support of a $444,000 grant from the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP).

According to Public Works Director Ryan Welch, the intersection of Ferry Street and Pratt Street has long been susceptible to unpredictable flooding from inclement weather events for decades.

“It’s becoming more frequently flooded. We’ve been dealing with it really for a long time,” said Welch. “We’ve tried to look at tide charts and moon charts and try to anticipate when it’s going to flood, but you just can’t do that. So we think the only way to solve it is to raise the road.”

The point of construction on Ferry Street will be raised by at least 18 inches, with a maximum elevation of 24 inches. Welch said this would occur at the inside left corner of the Ferry while cross-sloping it towards the adjacent Connecticut River.

“The grading and the pitch of the road would be higher on the inside corner,” said Welch. “Then we would adjust the driveways to meet the new grade.”

The maximum elevation is in consideration of nearby residential and commercial properties.

“There’s a limit to how much you can raise that road because if you raise it incorrectly, it’s tidal in there; you’ll be pushing water onto other people’s property,” said First Selectman Norm Needleman.

Along with the elevation of Ferry Street, Welch said the town wants to ensure pedestrian safety by incorporating a sidewalk that would connect with those on Main Street and Pratt.

“We may also install a device with a float switch on it that will tell us when there’s water on the road,” added Welch.

Both Welch and Needleman acknowledged that while the fix may not be a permanent solution to eliminating flooding in the long term, the work should help lessen most of the water on the road.

“Typically, there’s one to two feet of water on the road with a higher tide, and if we raise it two feet, then the water will be at zero, and then we’ll have a better chance [of less flooding] 90 percent of those events,” explained Welch. “It will really only be big storm surge events where there’s a lot of wind, or there’s a hurricane where we could possibly get more than two feet of water on the road, and then we’d have to close it in that situation. For all these other higher tides, there shouldn’t be any water on the road.”

The elevation of the road will be a more optimal solution to protecting those in the downtown area than current procedures, which involve placing barricades at the intersection of Ferry and Main to deter pedestrian access and trying to make room for two-way traffic along the tightly compacted space of the latter route.

“But with parking on both sides, it can be really difficult to get people through there, and people are not familiar with that situation if they’re not local,” said Welch.

“For now, we think that we can make a real dent in it and minimize the amount of times when the road is impassable,” said Needleman.

The current solution is also a far more affordable approach to flood mitigation than more expensive options, such as constructing a bridge at Ferry Street, but Welch said the space offers little room for such a structure and could cost upwards of $10 million. A multi-million dollar solution may have also been the case even with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said Welch.

On top of the $444,000 STEAP grant, the town will match the STEAP grant by 25%, or $111,000, by assuming the costs for the engineering design, surveying and traffic management, and administrative and project management, according to the grant application.

Welch said work should begin at the earliest during spring 2025 and should take approximately two months to complete. The time between now and the time of work is necessary for the completion of other grant-funded projects in town, seeing through the design and management plans of the project, as well as acquiring permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy.