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MERIDEN — The city’s efforts to prevent future floods were helped by a $2.46 million federal grant announced Thursday morning.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, announced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy along with Rep. Elizabeth Esty, will fund work on a downtown railroad bridge that is part of the city’s ongoing effort to prevent flooding along Harbor Brook.
“This FEMA grant is an integral part of ensuring we can keep the center of Meriden safe and dry,” Esty said at a press conference in the Midstate Chamber of Commerce offices on Colony Street.
The flood control project was prompted by a 1992 flood that caused $14 million worth of damage downtown. A 1996 flood caused $12 million in damage to the same area. The city has seen 11 significant floods since the mid 1800s.
Bridges have been replaced along Harbor Brook in the area of Bradley, Coe and Cook avenues. This spring, work is expected on the Columbus Avenue bridge.
The Hub redevelopment project is also underway in the center of the city. Harbor Brook, which flows under the 14-acre parcel, will be uncovered and the Hub will act as a space for flood storage. The city-owned property will double as a park with a pedestrian bridge connecting State and Pratt streets, along with an amphitheater and connection to the linear trail.
The funds announced Thursday will help solve one of the biggest issues along Harbor Brook: an Amtrak bridge behind the former Church and Morse building and the Liseo building on South Colony Street. There is a sharp turn in the brook and the water is known to hit the railroad bridge, sending it back upstream and into downtown. The Church and Morse and Liseo buildings, which are connected, will be demolished for easy access to the bridge.
With the federal funds, the city plans to have a parallel box culvert constructed, which will lessen the Harbor Brook backup. The federal funds will cover 75 percent of the expected $3.28 million cost of the culvert.
“We’re protecting the bridge here, we’re lifting these properties (in the area) out of the flood plain, which not only saves money for the federal government in flood insurance, but it also promotes jobs and economic growth here in Meriden and throughout central Connecticut,” Blumenthal said.
The legislators spoke optimistically about the downtown plans that include an improved high-speed rail line, new housing, the demolition of Mills Memorial Apartments and other economic development focused on the Hub. From an office that overlooks the Hub, Murphy said he is excited for Meriden’s future.
“We are on the precipice of reclaiming the city’s downtown from the floods that have ravaged the city for too long,” Murphy said, also discussing the city’s positioning along the rail line and highway system. “Meriden is uniquely positioned for economic growth.”
“A lot of what we’re saying sounds like visionary rhetoric, a lot of plans, dreams, hopes, aspirations,” Blumenthal added. “But we’re really talking about some firm deadlines here ... Money has been invested, construction is ongoing, a second (rail) track is being built. As much as the rhetoric sounds like grand visions, we’re talking about actual work on the ground that’s going forward.
City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior used to work in the building where the Midstate Chamber is located, 1-3 Colony St. During the 1992 flood, he recalled, the elevator pit was filled with 20 feet of water. The flood also resulted in a decision by Canberra, which employed close to 300 people, to leave downtown.
Kendzior said the city narrowly avoided another flooding disaster in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene. The brook, he said, was within the width of his finger from reaching the top of the railroad bridge and flooding again.
Designs for the culvert are expected to be complete soon and construction will likely last six to nine months, Kendzior said. The three buildings next to the bridge along South Colony Street were acquired by the city in recent years as part of the flood control project. After some delay while waiting for final approvals, demolition is expected to begin soon.
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