Flood control dam removal? Meeting in Ridgefield Feb. 27

Fox Hill condominium complex in Ridgefield. Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016

Fox Hill condominium complex in Ridgefield. Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016

Scott Mullin / For the

The flood control dam near the Fox Hill condominiums is being eyed for possible removal by federal and state officials, and the town is studying the potential effect on downstream properties at a time when concerns about flooding appear to be increasing due to climate change.

A meeting on the future of the dam, with various courses of action discussed and public comment taken, is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. in the Ridgefield Recreation Center’s Charter Oak Room. (The snow date is March 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the same place.)

“Currently, planning activities and analyses suggest the best course of action for this site may be dam removal with selective local floodproofing,” says a public notice on the meeting from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “This alternative will be presented in detail.”

“We have a public hearing at Parks and Rec. We’re asking everyone to be there,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

“Let the public comment on it,” he said. “There may be things that come up that we haven’t thought of yet.”

At the meeting different potential courses of action concerning the dam will be presented by officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).


A pubic notice from the NRCS offers some background:

“The dam does not meet current NRCS design criteria and performance standards and is eligible for the NRCS Watershed Resource Program,” the notice says.

“To qualify for partial funding for rehabilitation improvement through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954 (Public Law 83-566), NRCS and the DEEP first must develop a Supplemental Watershed Plan — Environmental Assessment (EA) with input from stakeholders and the public.

“The plan evaluates the social, economic and environmental impacts for each of the alternatives being considered including: no federal action, decommissioning (dam removal), structural rehabilitation, and non-structural measures.

“Planning activities will determine the best rehabilitation alternative that meets both current Connecticut Dam Safety Regulations and NRCS planning policy, design criteria and performance standards.”

It is in the next sentence that the notice suggests “dam removal” may be the best course of action.

As a flood control dam, the structure doesn’t normally hold back much water — it’s designed to let normal flows go through. But in times of heavy rain, it backs up a considerable pool of water, which can sometimes be seen innundating a portion of Farmingville Road near Ligi’s Way.

Calculations review

Taking the dam down is not yet a foregone conclusion, according to Marconi.

“Their recommendation is that, but they need the cooperation of both the state and the local municipality, in this case Ridgefield,” he said.

“What we are doing now, we’re verifying all of the calculations that were done, indicating water levels as a result of removal of the dam — downstream water levels, the impact downstream,” Marconi said. “And the biggest question is: Will it now require flood insurance for any of those properties?”

The decision will have a fiscal aspect, but that may not be the greatest concern — at least from the town’ perspective.

“The cost is zero to the town,” Marconi said. “The state has to pay one third and the federal government pays two thirds. And I know the state is concerned about the financial impact.

“We’re always concerned about financial impact,” he added.

But there are other considerations that would play into a decision on whether to remove the dam, or try to renovate and improve it.

“In this case, one has to realize that there are those who believe in climate change and those who don’t — so I’m not going to debate that,” Marconi said. “But I don’t think there’s any argument that the storm pattern and intensity of the storms we get today have changed, and that the guidelines for flooding are no longer accurate today — that the 100-year flood will occur much more frequently.

“Some people are forecasting that the 100-year flood will occur every year, at least once a year,” he added.

So, looking into the effects of removing a flood control dam should be interesting.

“This is what they’re recommendation. It doesn’t mean we’re going to OK it,” Marconi said. “But I’m as curious as anyone about their information. We’ll review it and make a decision sometime in the future. And that would involve the State of Connecticut as well.”