NORWALK, Conn. — Flooding mitigation in Norwalk is moving forward with the selection of a professional engineering firm to perform storm drainage evaluations at selected locations.
Woodard & Curran representatives were quietly present at last week’s town hall-like forum on flooding issues, gathering a feel for the problems ahead of their official start. The firm was chosen by a Department of Public Works Committee largely because of an impressive ability to “do the public outreach in a really kind of sensitive way,” DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns told the Common Council Public Works Committee Tuesday.
The full Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a $350,000 contact with Woodard & Curran to do on-call professional services, for flood evaluation drainage studies. They will develop a work plan and a sequence of projects, using a risk-based perspective, Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr said.
“Due to the timing and complexity, and having a lot of problem areas, we didn’t want to assign the areas (of work) yet,” Carr said. “We wanted the consultant to give them the priority list, go over the historical records, resident inputs. But we wanted to get them contracted and on board first before we detailed in these neighborhoods.”
It’s important to say “sequencing” rather than “prioritizing,” Woodard & Curran Senior Principal and Senior Client Manager Anthony Catalano said.
“Folks should feel that while lower on the list, or not on the list yet, the reality is they are all extremely important,” Catalano said. “But we need to measure it in some way so we can have a sequence of work, because the money is not, it’s not an endless pit of money that you have to put in corrective action measures.”
The move to address flooding follows historic rainfall last year; a Sept. 25 storm sent 105 million gallons of stormwater through a system built to handle 90 million gallons a day, according to Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E).
“Norwalk experienced more rain in just one week than it usually does over two full months.” Mayor Harry Rilling said in October, and the Council in November appropriated $1 million, at Rilling’s request, to begin working on flooding issues. Jacobs Engineering was subsequently hired to do dredging work and another consultant was sought to do a comprehensive study.
About 50 people attended last week’s forum.
“There was a lot of passion there,” Catalano said Tuesday. “We heard a lot of common themes…. a lot of frustration, things like, ‘There were past studies done, but when is the work going to get done?’”
“I think that emphasizes the importance of coming up with practical and feasible solutions that are implementable and not just developing studies that will go on the shelf, or continue to go on the shelf as perhaps some other studies have,” he said.
“I think a lot of the residents had good ideas, that I think we can incorporate,” Burns said.
“It was good to listen to the actual accounts of the people affected,” Carr said. “Even if they wanted to give their thoughts on anything else related to flooding and they weren’t personally affected, it was a good tool. So, we’re going to keep doing that throughout the process.”
Further complaints arriving by email are being dealt with and logged by the Customer Service department, he said. The priority list that was flashed on the screen during last week’s presentation should be available to the public within two months. He emphasized that the list will not be all-inclusive and information can be added.
Carr, who was hired partially because of his experience with flooding issues, said he’s worked with Woodard & Curran before. Based on experience, $350,000 “will buy you a good-sized drainage study which will encompass several areas, depending on the size of the area,” he said.
A “good chunk” of the money will be spent before Dec. 1 to create planning and budgeting documents for the capital budget process, Burns said.
Five or six flooding victims sat through Tuesday’s meeting, without comment. Activist Diane Lauricella said she was “really happy” to see Woodard & Curran because “they do look at a holistic approach which is helpful in modeling.”
“I really want to see us make a big effort this time to go all the way up the chain to the source of the drainage, like we did in Bridgeport when I was on the … design team for the Connecticut Green Building Council,” Lauricella said. She added that the City should go after people who dump in storm drains and “make an example of them in the press.”
Mary McCrann, who was there as leader of the Woodard & Curran grants team, drew Lauricella’s appreciation when she mentioned green infrastructure. It’s “adding benefit to the community, not just the pipes,” McCrann said.
There were multiple references to 10-year storms, 25-year storms and 50-year storms, a benchmark for infrastructure requirements. Burns noted that DPW now requires developers to build to a 25-year standard rather than a 10-year standard.
Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked if Woodard & Curran would make recommendations regarding standards, and the answer was yes.
“A number of communities are doing 50 now, I don’t know if we’re necessarily going to see 100,” Catalano said. “I think the reality is you start designing to those higher storm events … it’s costing more money. You’ll be designing infrastructure to withstand those storm events, there’s a bigger price to pay for with you would expect to be less frequency, so it is a balance.”