By Michael Gagne, Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — The next phase of the city’s decades-long effort to reduce flooding along Harbor Brook will include two bridge replacements and multiple channel improvements along Hanover Street and Cook Avenue to Cooper Street.
During a remote meeting Thursday night, City Engineer Brian Ennis and Elsa Loehmann, a project engineer for Fuss & O’Neill and lead designer for this phase, reviewed preliminary plans for a phase that is projected to cost around $20 million.
It will likely be at least three years before the phase is completed. Once it is finished, officials expect to significantly reduce the number of buildings in the floodplain — from around 300 to less than 50. The floodplain itself will be reduced from 220 acres to around 80.
Renderings showed the apartment buildings that comprise Hanover Towers and Harbor Towers currently sit within the floodplain. Once the project is completed, the buildings would no longer be in the floodplain.
Loehmann said two access bridges to Hanover and Harbor towers will be replaced. One crosses the brook to Butler Street, the other to Hanover Street.
The replacement bridges have been designed for their existing footprints, Loehmann said.
“But they will have more capacity and they will be higher than the existing bridges,” she said.
So in the event of a historic 100-year storm, floodwaters would flow under the bridges and not flood streets.
The project, which includes regrading and planting of new vegetation, would also create a five-acre brookside wildlife corridor, Loehmann said.
In addition to the bridge replacements, extensive channel work will allow the brook to contain waters that would otherwise overflow, Loehmann said.
The project also seeks to build a buffer between existing properties, including the backside of residences along Cherry Street, and the proposed wildlife corridor, which Loehmann said would be maintained as a floodplain meadow. It would be buffered from properties through new planting and berming.
The project will also involve the installation of a new sewer system in that area, along with other utility work.
Loehmann said the work, once completed, will provide more parking. The project also aims to create a new recreational corridor, that is wider than a traditional sidewalk, and would accommodate bicycles and pedestrians along with an open esplanade area. The new bridges will also have sidewalks on both sides.
“As designers we were very careful to make sure that we were taking the community benefits into consideration,” Loehmann said.
Loehmann gave a timeline for when the work is expected to meet certain benchmarks. It is currently in the middle of its preliminary design phase.
Following the completion of a preliminary design, the project plans must be reviewed for permitting by federal and state agencies. Loehmann said the proposal has already been permitted “in the grand sense,” with approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
But the preliminary plans will need to be rechecked by those agencies. According to the timeline Loehmann shared, officials expect to submit the preliminary design for permitting by this fall.
Loehmann anticipated it may be at least a year before the city receives permits, as the permitting agencies are “swamped” with proposals, she explained.
After the city receives permits and comments from regulators, the project would then move to final design to prepare construction documents to go out to bid.
So final design might not be completed until the fall of 2023 with the proposal expected to go out for construction bidding the following winter. The first phase of construction would be carried out from the spring of 2024 into that fall.
The first year of the project will include the bridge replacements, which Loehmann said would happen consecutively.
“We will keep one open, while the other is under construction — to have it impact parking as little as possible,” Loehmann said.
While the bridge work is underway, there will be detours.
When the bridges are complete, contractors would move on to the channel work, which will include regrading and the removal of existing channel walls and replacing them to increase the channel’s capacity.
According to the city’s timeline, officials would seek construction bids for the second phase during the winter of 2024-2025, with work to be carried out from the spring through fall in 2025.
Meanwhile, officials will seek federal and state grants to fund the initiative.
Loehmann said the city is “aggressively seeking funding” for the project, including grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The funding would come from FEMA’s “Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities” or BRIC program, which funds work to reduce risks related to disasters and other natural hazards.
“This project is an excellent candidate for that funding,” Loehmann said.
Ennis, during the presentation, noted that one of the slides presented showed the former International Silver Factory H slab and 116 Cook Ave., which was damaged by fire this past winter. Ennis briefly discussed plans for the two sites.
Ennis said officials originally planned to refurbish the Cook Avenue building, but that is no longer feasible.
“We are working on getting some brownfield funding reallocated for the demolition of 116 Cook Ave.,” Ennis said. “Once that gets done and the Factory H slab remediation is complete, we will have a relatively large developable parcel.”
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