Illianos restaurant stands only a couple hundred yards from the Coginchaug River. It was dry Tuesday but on July 9, during Tropical Storm Elsa, Illianos was dangerously close to flood water. The Coginchaug rose so high, nearby Palmer Field was practically submerged. Illiano’s worker, Aidan Walsh remembers having to wade through water trying to move his car.
“It got about halfway up my leg. The rest of the day I had to work in wet pants and I was grumpy,” Walsh said.
According to a recent study, what happened in July could become more common in that area. Research done by the First Street Foundation shows Middlesex County ranks sixth among Connecticut counties with the most operational flood risk. Fairfield County currently ranks first. Thirty years down the road though, taking into consideration climate change, this study projects Middlesex County to have the most growth out of all Connecticut counties.
Middletown is known for being close to the Connecticut River but with such proximity to water, flood experts say this community could become increasingly vulnerable to flooding over the next few decades.
“It’s coming. We’ve seen it this year. We’ve had an over-abundance of rain already,” said Middlefield’s Bruce Pisson.
The study concludes that Middlesex County will see the greatest growing operational risk when it comes to residences, roads, commercial buildings and critical infrastructure. Christine Kirchhoff, an associate professor in UConn’s Environmental Engineering department says this could lead to tough decisions.
“It’s so cost-prohibitive to raise every road by 6 inches or a foot and every other driveways and roads that are connecting those roads,” said Kirchhoff.
Although the study projects to the year 2051, Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim says there’s immediate urgency, especially as the city outlines a plan for riverfront development.
“I think that climate resiliency and flooding resiliency is going to have to be a centerpiece of this project,” he said.
Regarding the Middletown riverfront development project, a meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the overall plan. It is open to the public, via Zoom, and can be accessed on the city’s website.