STONINGTON — The Mystic River Boathouse Park project will receive free help in designing eco-friendly coastal resilience features from the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation at the UConn Avery Point Campus.
Using the concept of “living shorelines,” which employs natural erosion control techniques, the institute will provide 25 hours of service until May 1. The effort was detailed Monday by Rebecca French, the institute’s director of community engagement, and Kimberly Bradley, living shoreline project specialist, at a meeting of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee.
“If you’re not familiar with Living Shorelines, they’re basically using nature as an inspiration for how to both enhance a coastal ecosystem but also deal with the challenges we have at our shoreline, erosion in particular,” said French. “It’s a unique, new approach that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in particular has been promoting, so we can also help in navigating this relatively new coastal management strategy.”
She explained that working on the boathouse park project is part of the final phase of a regional coastal resilience grant awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 2016-17. In a national competition, French’s group received part of $891,243 awarded to the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems to look at flood forecasting and to advance the use of living shorelines. The final activity required by the grant was to help a couple of pilot communities implement living shorelines, French said.
French and Bradley will review Living Shoreline alternatives for the park and provide local wave information to inform the site design. They will also provide an oral review and recommendation for design alternatives, working with Chad Frost of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture in Groton, the designer of the project’s master plan. A final report will also be provided to the implementation committee and to NOAA.
Chairing Monday’s meeting was First Selectman Rob Simmons, who pointed out that the park’s shoreline needed to have some areas dedicated to aquatic activities and could not be entirely redone using green infrastructure.
“For purposes of this park, with crew shells, kayaks, canoes and other activities, the whole property cannot be dedicated to Living Shorelines because if it is, the aquatic activities will be dead. But there is a substantial space where these concepts can be applied.”
Mike O’Neill, chair of the implementation committee and a partner in Evergreen Building Systems, a construction company in Stonington, said he was familiar with Living Shorelines from professional projects he had worked on. It made him aware of the need to balance the project’s practical aspects with aesthetics, he said.
“It is a very nice way to put a property back to what it was supposed to be prior to being developed, prior to restructured for public use,” he said. “The one challenge I see is there has to be the ability to have the beauty but also the utility side of this.”
Frost said his team was excited about working with Living Shorelines but noted that it would subject the project to more scrutiny from state agencies.
“It still has some risk associated with it because this will elevate us to a higher level of visibility. I think our site is already very visible to everyone in DEEP,” he said. “It’s exciting and a good opportunity but we need to understand it’s not just this nice, little park happening in Stonington; other people are going to be looking at what we do, which is a good thing at the end of the day. We want this park to last for decades if not longer and to do that we should try to use the best methods we know possible.”
Frost also said the public should understand that Living Shorelines doesn’t just use soft structures like plants to solve erosion problems. Techniques like reef balls, which are hard, artificial structures that absorb wave energy instead of deflecting it, are also put to use.
“It’s using the concept of nature to better protect ourselves from nature as we go forward,” he said.
Frost also said that French and Bradley’s guidance from a permitting perspective will be helpful.
During the meeting, Frost also presented a schedule for completing the master plan with a goal of finishing it by mid-July.