MYSTIC — More than 175 residents crowded into the St. Mark’s Church ‘undercroft’ (the basement) on Pearl Street last Thursday to hear a town planning officer discuss the proposals to address an expected 20 inch rise in river level, increased storm-driven flooding, overwhelmed drainage and runoff.
The news was not good. “The river level rise and storm water flooding were certain; the town’s plans for remediation were not,” Megan Granato, the town sustainability and resilience plan administrator, told the assembled crowd of the situation facing the town prior to the study.
In 2021, the Town Council established a formal plan and process — The Downtown Mystic Resilience and Sustainability Plan — to assess threats and draw up engineering and scientifically-supported alternative plans for addressing the problem, taking recommendations from emergency services personnel, local property owners, UConn Avery Point scientists, and the private consulting firm GZA GeoEnvironmental.
The planning process was budgeted at $95,000, with another $60,000 of in-kind services from the town, supported by grant funding from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the study area was focused on the western bank of the Mystic River in the downtown.
Asked about the Stonington side of Mystic, Granato said her planning office staff and scientific advisory panels working on the plan “were in communication with a similar function in the Town of Stonington which had performed a similar function some ten years ago,” and was proceeding in tandem with Groton planning efforts.
The plan has high-priority recommendations and lower-priority courses of action.
No engineering advice and proposals were spared—whatever the cost or extent of resources required.
Low Priority Resilience Action Recommendations include “constructing a flood barrier with a closable gate and adjoining earthen embankment on the Mystic River downstream of the study area to protect … from storm surge.” Such engineering was used in Rotterdam across the mouth of the Rhine River. Similarly it has been constructed across the mouth of the New Bedford Harbor.
Long-time locals commented dryly, “well, they are not leaving any idea out—now, are they?”
The planners admitted publicly such a structure would likely not be built.
But proposed High Priority Resilience Projects, on the other hand, appear to have a serious chance for adoption by Town Council. These include the installation of backflow preventers on storm water outflows of which there are 20; elevating low-lying roadways such as Gravel, Pearl and Water Streets; Pearl Street storm water improvement alternatives; installation of “green infrastructure” in the upper watershed — Clift, High, Burrows, Eldredge, and Pequot Streets –thick water absorbing gardens installed in both private and public lands to reduce the flow of water downhill into the storm water drains.
According to one scientist, there is a “high likelihood several of the low lying roads like Gravel and Pearl Streets would get approval and funding” to be raised between 8 inches and a foot above present levels. The cost of raising Pearl Street, including drain, sewer and water pipes is estimated to cost $1,000,000 or more. The new streetscape for all of Mystic built some 10 years ago was more than $10,000,000.
Part of the rationale for raising those streets, according to one engineer, “was to assure reliable passage of emergency fire, police and medical vehicles and personnel.”
There was also a bit of irony that Pearl Street and St. Mark’s Church where the meeting was hosted by Rev. Adam Thomas, was built on land that over a century ago used to carry an arm of the Mystic River. And longtime locals observed that during storms and high water, basements are already substantially flooded.
As one said, it is “an unrelenting message from Mother Nature.”
Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correct the description of the study area, the origin of the funding (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation), and to clarify that while a flood barrier is unlikely, it has not been categorically ruled out.