Recent storm stirs flooding concerns for downtown Meriden businesses

reporter photo

MERIDEN — The water lapped at the doorstep at AJ’s Oasis Cafe on July 9, just high enough to remind Sarah Arnold when it rushed through the doors in 1996.

Arnold and her husband John Arnold bought the Hanover Street pub in 1994, midway between the floods of 1992 and 1996. The restaurant and pub saved pictures of the storm in 1996 that damaged furniture and the interior of the cafe.

Prior to Tropical Storm Elsa’s arrival on July 9, Arnold and AJ’s staff stacked barstools on tables, cleared as much as they could, and held their breath.

“It came down quick,” Arnold said. “It was scary. I was thinking, first COVID, then a flood, thank God we don’t have a basement. But it receded. I don’t know what would have happened if we got more rain.”  

The intersection of Hanover Street and Cook Avenue next to the bar was more than a foot underwater, and a heavy stream climbed a curb and was running through AJ’s patio and up to the building behind the bar. 

“We were trapped, so I started taking pictures,” Arnold said. “But it didn’t come in through the door.”

Across Hanover Street, Vapor’s Edge sits on slightly higher ground. Employee Marc Hallas said the storm brought about two inches and flooded the rear of the building.

“If it had rained about 15 minutes more we would have lost everything,” Hallas said. “We got very lucky it didn’t last any longer. It was getting close.”

Overall, Elsa dumped about two and a half inches of rain onto a downtown where the ground had been saturated the night before. The worst of it saw up to two and a half feet of water submerging blocks-long sections of Hanover Street and Cook Avenue, Pratt and State streets. 

City Clerk Denise Grandy said she’s received about 10 requests for claim applications from people whose cars were submerged during the flood, but has not received any completed forms. 

City officials said completed flood work helped stave off a worsening situation that would have closed downtown for days, rather than hours. Future work set to begin soon will deepen and widen channels at Cooper, Hanover and East Main streets to improve the scenarios for downtown residents and business owners. 

But can it come quick enough to prevent damage from future storms?

High impact

The storm of 1992 bought between six and eight inches of rain, according to records. The flood of 1996 clobbered downtown with five inches. According to recent estimates, Elsa brought two and a half inches within three hours. 

City Engineer Howard Weissberg said without rain guages in the channels, it’s hard to determine the precise amount of rainfall and accumulation, and even the 1992 and 1996 numbers are guesses.

Weissberg pointed to information from the Weather Channel showing central Connecticut as the darkest spot on a rainfall map for the month of July. The ground was saturated and unable to absorb more, he said. 

“The challenge with Meriden is because it’s a smaller watershed, a short duration high intensity storm tends to have a high intensity impact,” Weissberg said.

The storms of 1992 and 1996 led to the creation of the city’s flood control program designed to tackle flooding issues that were harming businesses and homes. Increasing water storage at Falcon Field and at the Meriden Green are complete but more work remains.

The city’s next priorities in the design stages are channel improvements from Cooper Street to the Amtrak bridge on East Main Street, Cedar Street to Center Street, and from Hanover Pond to Coe Avenue. The Meriden Green expansion is also in the design phase.

Another key project is to widen and deepen the channel that runs underneath 100 Hanover St., the former Castle Bank now Elohim Casa De Dios Inc. church. Pastor Luis Gonzalez told media outlets on July 9, that Elsa took them by surprise. Church members cleaned out inches of water that had gotten inside and postponed services for several days. 

The building is scheduled for demolition to open space and create instream storage along the channel, Weissberg said. The work will help alleviate backups elsewhere. 

“We actually tried,” Weissberg said about preventing demolition. “We looked at alternatives to keep the building. The impacts were too significant and it wasn’t feasible.”

Staying on schedule

Meteorologists and other weather experts have warned central Connecticut can expect more significant rainfall events on top of the rain that has already fallen this summer.

But Weissberg doesn’t think accelerating aspects of the flood control project will help if there is another downpour. He intends to stay on the program’s timeline and keep channels and chokepoints free of debris. Two major projects; on Perkins Street under the former Church & Morse building and the Cooper Street bridge and channel widening from Coe Avenue are in the works for the fall. The Perkins Street work will alleviate some bottlenecks and improve the flow leaving the Green.  

“That’s a lot of channel work,” he said. “I think we’ve shown we can handle a storm event. This is going on for 12 years. We can’t turn on a dime. The whole thing is designed for rainfall — no knee jerk, we’ll continue the project as planned.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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