Ready for Tomorrow: West Haven Resiliency

A guest blog for CIRCA by Joshua Rodriguez and Annalisa Berardinelli, University of New Haven interns for the Mayor’s office in the City of West Haven.

On June 11, 2015, the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) and the Connecticut Association of Flood Managers (CAFM) came together with the City of West Haven to assess future changes to improve the high-risk flood areas in West Haven. From the City of West Haven, Abdul Quadir, lead engineer, Mark Paine, public works, and Eileen Krugel, grants writer, collaborated with Rebecca French, Director of Community Engagement for CIRCA and members of the Board of the CAFM (Thomas Gormley, Emmeline Harrigan, Dave Murphy, and Scott Bighinatti) to invite staff and residents from our fellow municipalities to learn about West Haven’s flood planning programs. Attendees included representatives from local environmental non-profits, emergency management personnel, and municipal and state of Connecticut professionals.

Mayor Edward O’Brien welcomed the group at city hall where West Haven’s personnel presented an overview of coastal resiliency measures within the city. This was followed by a tour of the Old Field Creek area located in the eastern portion of the city by New Haven harbor.

The City of West Haven has received $2.17 million from two federal disaster recovery grants through the Connecticut Department of Housing to raise the road along Beach Street (Figure 1). Raising the road will help limit the detrimental effects tidal surges can have on the local homes and businesses, though it will not diminish it completely. In conjunction with this project, the city is working with additional grant funding from USDA’s Natural Recourses Conservation Service to buy back many houses that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The voluntary buyout project, for applicant residents, extends to 32 properties impacted by marshlands around Beach Street, Blohm Street, and Third Avenue Extension (Figure 1). Another disaster recovery grant will address dredging Old Field Creek, another “at risk” point in the city. Other environmental concerns include the city’s wastewater treatment plant’s outflow along with Piping Plover nests in the marsh area at Sandy Point (Figure 1). The City of West Haven is working hard to maintain the safety of the houses and businesses on the shoreline along with maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

We are interns at the mayor’s office from the University of New Haven for the summer, trying to learn about policies, projects, and anything that West Haven is working on. As a result, we went on a walking tour of the project and learned an incredible amount about the environment and the collaborative efforts of all of the parties involved in making this project happen.

Throughout the tour (Figure 2), we learned about the many different species that live in a marsh, which was new to the two of us. There are turkeys, deer, coyotes, and a variety of bird species all in a very dense area. We also learned some new vocabulary, such as phragmites, which are long grasses, similar to reeds. Overall, it was a very interesting experience. It is extremely refreshing to see how much so many different people care about one town’s problem. As students living in the community, we knew minimal details about the City of West Haven, so it was extremely interesting to see the town in a new light, from a local perspective.

We also learned about how devastating Superstorm Sandy was, not only to New Jersey and New York, but everywhere along the eastern shores. We are still seeing the effects from it today in the destroyed houses on Beach Street and Third Avenue Extension (Figure 2), as well as the change in vegetation along the marsh area. As mayor interns, we are beginning to learn about the operations of the town, so it was eye-opening to see the direct impact that policy can have on the town. Furthermore, we were able to see the collaboration of several different groups all coming together to help improve the environment for the betterment of the community.