$13 Million Glastonbury Boathouse Slipping Into Connecticut River

It's the culmination of a Glastonbury's long-standing plan to reclaim its picturesque frontage on the Connecticut River. The vision: to open the riverfront to residents and bring people in from across the state to generate income for the town.

Town Manager Richard Johnson says the boathouse was the final phase of development. It won widespread public support in a November 2012 referendum, where residents approved $12 million for the project. The state infused $4 million in grant money, and private donors provided about half-a-million dollars more.

Less than two years later, the ribbon was set to be cut on what turned out to be a $13 million showpiece when the project team noticed some structural movement: cracks and gaps in the sidewalks and ramps. The soil below the boathouse was shifting and the structure was starting to slide into the river.

The ribbon-cutting went forward, but the town suspended use of the boathouse and put the brakes on any rentals.

"In an ideal world, and our plans were... we would've had the upper level open in say, December 2014," said Johnson.

The town hired three geo-technical companies to conduct tests on soil stability over the winter. Three months later, they devised a two-part solution. They excavated one area of the property to relieve the downward pressure on the site. The second part of the solution is a bit more problematic.

"We will put riprap in the river that will serve as a resistance to any sliding toward the river," said Johnson.

The use of large riprap stones requires approval from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The town is looking to use 5300 cubic feet of rock to cover a 26,000-square-foot area of the river.

Brian Thompson from the DEEP's Office of Long Island Sound Programs said the agency approved the request, only because it's been deemed "necessary and unavoidable."

But with a project of this size and impact, the state is requiring Glastonbury to mitigate the negative effects of the riprap by taking on a project elsewhere on the river to improve the fish habitat.

"It's not that the Connecticut River will ever achieve the balance it had before, but we are creating an improvement that wouldn't have otherwise existed," said Thompson.

The big issue now is the cost. The town manager said the total is still unknown and he would not give an estimate, but the Troubleshooters spoke to several members of the Glastonbury Town Council who confirmed that the two-part fix and the river mitigation project could cost as much as $1.5 million. Then there's the question of who will foot the bill.

"To the extent there is town funding required for the fix, that would that would be something that would be subject to the review and approval by the town council," said Johnson.

According to one council member, enough funds remain from the amount approved at referendum to pay the bill, but the town has plans to recoup those expenses elsewhere. The town council members indicate that original geo-technical contractor, Clarence Welti Associates of Glastonbury, is one of several firms on the boathouse project team that could be named in a lawsuit to recover the money spent to fix the issues.

We reached out to the firm and Max Welti told us their attorneys are involved.

"We are currently in discussions with the town about this (issue), and it isn't appropriate to be discussing it with you," Welti said.

Meanwhile, the town built a temporary secondary access last month to open the upper level reception hall and has started hosting events.

Richard Johnson called the process frustrating, but said he's confident the town's vision for its river dream-house will ultimately be fulfilled.

"We need to make certain it is a lasting and sustaining remedy. It's a challenge enough to do this once, you don't want to do it a second time," said Johnson.

The riprap project in the Connecticut River will begin in July, and officials expect the boathouse and surrounding property will be fully restored by summer's end. The town's pursuit to recover the hundreds of thousands spent to fix the problems is likely to take far longer.

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