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Southbury To Address Severe Erosion Problem

First Selectman explains the history of the project.

Courtesy of Southbury's official town website
Courtesy of Southbury's official town website

The following is a message from Southbury First Selectman Ed Edelson talking about Southbury addressing a severe erosion problem on the banks of the Pomperaug River behind Ballantine Park. 

"At the Board of Selectmen meeting on June 19th, the board approved awarding the engineering work to Milone and MacBroom Inc.

As a result of significant events in the early part of the last decade, several sites along the Pomperaug were adversely affected. In one prominent case the situation deteriorated to the point of needing emergency actions by the Natural Resources Conservation Service so that homeowners could remain in their homes. The result can be seen from the bridge on Judson Avenue in Woodbury – several hundred feet of sheet piling to shore up the homeowner’s riverbank. (See photo below.) This is not a very rural natural look. The work cost several hundred thousand dollars of (Federal) taxpayer’s money.

I had the opportunity to take the course offered by Jim MacBroom at Yale University on rivers when I was Executive Director of the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition. One important take-away (in addition to my admiration for Jim’s river knowledge) was his observation that if action had been taken soon after the erosion was first noticed, the emergency situation off of Judson Avenue could have been avoided by an expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars. As the adage goes – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, the pound of cure was about 10 times the cost of prevention.

All involved feel that the engineering solution at Judson Avenue, which was done on an emergency basis, is an eyesore and may have only resulted in transferring the problem (the energy of the flowing river during storms) to a point further downstream or upstream.

The erosion problem in Southbury at Ballantine Park did not receive much attention until the Federal case against General Electric regarding their Pittsfield, MA plant was resolved. GE had been found guilty of dumping the hazardous chemical PCB in the Housatonic River. Experts agreed that trying to remove the remaining chemical in the riverbed might cause more problems. So the parties agreed to create a natural resources damage fund to support projects on the rivers and streams that are tributaries of the Housatonic. This includes the Pomperaug.

Southbury put forward several projects including the Ballantine Park erosion. The situation was quite bad and has become worse from more recent storms. Continued erosion could jeopardize the basketball court at Ballantine.

Southbury was awarded $180,000 in 2009 from the GE Natural Resources Damage Fund. So what happened from 2009 until 2014? In a word: paperwork.

I can only speak for our experience starting in late 2011. Carol Hubert and I worked diligently to get the appropriate papers signed but found it very frustrating. Lots of phone calls, follow-up, reminders, nudging and cajoling. I believe former-First Selectman Bill Davis and Jennifer Naylor had similar issues. The paperwork (and related money) was resolved in late 2012.

We then began to focus on what should be done at the site. As noted above, I had concerns based on the work at Judson Avenue in Woodbury. When I asked Tom Crowe if I could read the work proposal put together six years earlier, he explained that the timeframe for applying for the award was very short and the focus was more on the extent of the problem than the actual solution. The $180,000 was a rough estimate. Tom was honest enough to say that this was not his area of expertise and we needed help to find the right solution.

Ironically, this was one of the important reasons we wanted to have pre-qualified on-call engineers who could assist us on a range of engineering projects that might confront a town like Southbury. Per the protocol adopted in our approach to on-call engineering, we invited all three companies to attend an on-site review of the problem at Ballantine Park. This review also included representatives from the Northwest Conservation District and the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition. Both organizations have expertise in river dynamics and soil erosion. We wanted to make sure that the solution did not just transfer the problem somewhere else along the river.

Although I was not able to attend the review, I was very pleased to learn that Jim MacBroom, a senior vice-president at Milone and MacBroom Inc. participated and provided some observations about the cause of the erosion. Tapping into the knowledge and experience of multiple engineering and environmental experts to help design the project is one of the goals of the on-call engineering approach to procurement. Note that the actual construction will be separately bid per the procurement policy. Developing the right design and high-quality related construction documents, however, is the best way to get maximum value for the town.

The site review noted the nature of the problem in some detail as shown in these photos looking at the situation from down by the river."


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