Anyone who’s been following the progress of Meriden’s flood-control efforts could be excused for thinking that the whole thing has taken too long. But the city is getting ready to install large steel pipes under the railroad tracks near the former Church & Morse building on South Colony Street, and that should fix what officials say is a main choke point along Harbor Brook and the origin of many past floods.
It’s been 28 years since the major flood that ravaged the downtown and caused the late Phil Ashton to threaten to move Yankee Gas out of the city.
“I was furious,” Ashton said in 2013. “Nobody wants to conduct business in an area that goes underwater every 10 years.”
Not quite every 10 years, but for more than a century and half, the site of the Hub (the former shopping center where the Meriden Green is now) had been known for 11 significant floods caused by Harbor Brook escaping its banks, as well as a number of attempts to solve the problem. City Councilor and former Mayor Michael Rohde once found a written account that quoted a city councilman saying, “Meriden has a huge downtown flooding problem, they should do something about it, but they probably never will.” That quote was from 1890.
So Rohde named Ashton to the new Flood Control Implementation Agency, and things began to happen. Grants had to be secured, buildings had to come down, and a number of choke points that impeded the flow of the brook during high-water conditions had to be eliminated. And finally the Meriden Green replaced what Rohde once called “a 14-acre wasteland in the center of Meriden” and became an asset instead. With Harbor Brook now open, the Green can serve as a water detention area.
But there was still a bottleneck at the “Amtrak Bridge,” just downstream from the Green, and the installation of 72-inch pipes under the tracks will soon remove the last major impediment to the flow of water out of the downtown area.
“The primary channel is still going to go underneath the bridge,” City Engineer Brian Ennis explained, “but when the water starts backing up and starts getting higher, this is going to be a secondary pass to get it around the bridge so we don't back up and flood out downtown.”
Ennis expects construction on the Amtrak Bridge project will be done by late summer and hopes that the overall flood control project will finish in six to seven years.
But eliminating the Amtrak Bridge bottleneck will be a giant leap in the very long process of solving Meriden’s downtown flooding problem.