NEW HAVEN — Nearly two years after storm Sandy sacked the Connecticut coast — a shoreline still disheveled from a pounding by Tropical Storm Irene a year earlier — federal funds for recovery are still being parceled out.
The application deadline for a second allotment of Community Development Block Grant funds through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is two weeks way. It was only July 1 that the last recipients for the first round were announced.
More than two-thirds of the nearly $32 million in the July award went to three housing projects in Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport. The rest was split among shoreline infrastructure, planning and facilities proposals. (The full first round was nearly $72 million.)
But at least a couple of the awards raise some questions about how the money is being spent and whether it ever will be used.
The Morris Cove Seawall
For example, a longstanding and controversial request to build a seawall along Morris Cove in New Haven, approved as infrastructure funding, could be years away from implementation. The project faces serious hurdles that could make meeting grant-imposed deadlines a race with the clock.
Morris Cove is one of the most high-profile projects in the group. Officially known as the East Shore Erosion Control Project because of its location along the east shore of New Haven Harbor, it will receive nearly $2 million — half awarded in the July announcement and the other half already OK'ed from the next funding block of $66 million. Some $30 million of the second-round of funding will go toward infrastructure, while the first round only allotted $4 million out of requests for funding totaling $18 million.
The Morris Cove funding comes more than a decade after residents began asking for a seawall — long before Irene or Sandy hit.
Among them is David Kronberg, a 46-year resident whose home still sports the remnants of a destroyed deck and other damage — all largely the way Sandy left it two years ago.
A low jersey barrier installed temporarily by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about a year and a half ago already shows signs of damage. Waves that reach it during high tides have piled sand behind the barrier to within inches of the top.
"If we get a northwest wind it'll come over," Kronberg said of the water. He was speaking on a still, sunny morning that gave no indication of being smack in the middle of hurricane season.
About a dozen homes north of Kronberg's have built illegal walls and bulkheads to connect to a legal wall built along Nathan Hale Park in the early 1980s. Those homes have no beach left. Even at low tide, the water now laps at their walls, unlike years ago when Kronberg said he used to be able to walk all the way up to the park.
"Pretty much at low tide you could," he said.
Coastal geologists generally do not favor seawalls, citing them for such beach loss when waves have nowhere to deposit sand that they naturally move. The geologists also blame seawalls for increased erosion due to amplification of wave energy by the hardened structure. Concerns like these stalled out the most serious proposal for a seawall along Morris Cove, offered in 2000. The idea was finally abandoned in 2006 when the then-Department of Environmental Protection would not approve it.
The new proposal is for a 500-foot long, 10-foot high steel sheet seawall to be built behind 10 homes on Townsend Avenue, where these Morris Cove homes officially are. The wall would run from Kronberg's house north with most of the wall replacing the illegal ones.
But several homes south of Kronberg's would remain unprotected and there's no telling what that will mean as federal and state agencies begin their review and potential revision of the proposal – a process that could take years against a completion deadline of March 19, 2019.
"There's too many questions between here and there," said Joe Krupa, the municipal civil engineer in New Haven overseeing the project. He said he couldn't begin to estimate the timing, even though the application required estimates. "There are a lot of open-ended questions with this project yet."
A big one is whether a wall in one location would cause problems elsewhere, such as damaging other homes and portions of beach or by increasing erosion that creates drainage problems elsewhere.
There are concerns about what would happen to water during storm surges with a wall in the way. Generally that water heads for dunes between homes and can potentially flood onto Townsend Avenue, which along with a large area that stretches all the way to Tweed Airport, is low-lying. This is a key reason the city has viewed the seawall as a necessary community project even though it would be on private property. Block grants require that projects have a public benefit.
And then there's the engineering: how to anchor the seawall into sand; what engineers will find once they start digging; and literally how to coordinate it.