Can WHS Sports Complex Take Another Epic Storm? BOS Weighs Risks vs. High Costs of Preventive Measures

Last September, the remnants of Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc on Wilton, with record-setting rainfall that resulted in flooded roads, homes and other areas throughout the Town.

The area around the sports complex at Wilton High School — including Fujitani Field at the stadium, the track and nearby sports fields — were particularly hard hit.

The heavy rains flowed down the hills of Catalpa Rd., blocking drains throughout the watercourse, causing water, mud and debris to surge onto the track (which had only recently been installed) and across the pristine turf field.

And it didn’t stop there. The water and debris inundated the grass field outside the stadium, reaching as far as the youth baseball field.

The damage was extensive. The cleanup and restoration costs — a whopping $300,000 — turned out to be mostly reimbursed by FEMA, but the Town felt the impact in another significant way: the fields and track had to be closed for six weeks, disrupting numerous youth and school sports teams as well as residents who enjoy the use of the facilities.

Since then, the Town has embarked on an in-depth study and hydraulic modeling of the area to identify potential mitigation strategies that might prevent such damage in the future.

At the April 6 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, Wilton’s Department of Public Works Director and Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio updated the board on various plans and options for improving the conditions.

Smeriglio’s presentation can be found on the Town website. It can also be viewed on the video recording of the Zoom meeting.

For context, Smeriglio outlined several storm scenarios ranging in the rate of rainfall and their chances of occurring each year. He noted that Ida dropped about six inches of rain in under eight hours, somewhere in the Type 4 to 5 range in the chart below.

Source: DPW (Wilton High School Sports Complex Field Hydraulic Analysis, April 6, 2022)

Smeriglio went on to explain that the cost to prevent the outcomes expected from another Type 4 or 5 storm in Wilton would be about $1,160,000.

An effective mitigation option was identified for Type 1-2 storms at a significantly lower cost. For about $174,000, a series of drainage improvements and construction of a soil berm would divert and manage stormwater. As seen in the model below, the fields and track would remain protected from inundation.

Source: DPW (Wilton High School Sports Complex Field Hydraulic Analysis, April 6, 2022)

However, that solution would be insufficient for a Type 3 storm, as seen below.

Source: DPW (Wilton High School Sports Complex Field Hydraulic Analysis, April 6, 2022)

Smeriglio presented other options that would provide protection for Type 3 or higher storms, at costs of approximately $1.1 million. Those options involved the same drainage improvements and a berm, but with additional culverts (with either 36″ or 48″ pipes) running the length of the complex.

DPW is requesting funding for the work from the grant money Wilton received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) or the Town’s Infrastructure Fund, which other Town departments are also jockeying for. The BOS has previously hinted it would prioritize the storm mitigation work, but board members seemed a bit surprised at how high the costs escalated from one option to the next.

“That’s a big jump,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said, considering the difference in the risk for a Type 2 event and a Type 5 event was fairly small.

“It’s a significant amount of money and what’s it buying you in terms of that difference [in risk]?” she asked rhetorically.

Clearly, the cost gave her pause. “I just don’t know where I am on this. It’s a lot of money,” she said.

The fact that FEMA reimbursed much of the repair from Hurricane Ida is also a factor in the selectmen’s assessment of the proposed plans.

“The interesting thing is when you get the money back from FEMA, it’s no longer a financial decision. It’s an operational decision. It’s the loss of the field [use],” Vanderslice observed. “Then really what you’re buying is the use of the field. It’s kind of different because it isn’t your typical financial analysis.”

“As long as FEMA is still reimbursing us,” she added, highlighting the possibility that FEMA might not do so in all circumstances.

But Wait… There’s More

DPW considers the dredging of the nearby pond (located between Cider Mill and the WHS complex) and other critical maintenance of the area between lower School Rd. and Catalpa Rd. to be of the same high priority as the WHS sports complex.

Smeriglio told the board DPW is requesting about $755,000 for the pond dredging, which he believed had not been done in many years. In addition to removing silt, the cost would include the required testing, excavating and transporting the material to a disposal facility.

Though much of the discussions focused on the sports complex, Smeriglio emphasized the urgency of the pond dredging.

“I want to bring importance to the pond dredging because the silt is building up in the pond,” Smeriglio said. “And it’s very close to building up to a point where the pipes that are tying into the pond are going to get blocked, and then you’re going be forced to do this.”

Smeriglio said other needed maintenance in the area of lower School Rd., which would require about $293,000, was also of high priority. That work would include video inspection of storm pipes, cleaning pipes as needed, removing various trees along the existing stream, and installing large stones along the stream bed.

Next Steps

“Everybody needs to think about this,” Vanderslice told her fellow board members. “You’re seeing it for the first time. It’s a big number.”

She reminded the board, “There are other areas where we may need to do drainage and other work, but these are the three top [DPW] priorities.”

Vanderslice indicated the topic would be added to a future BOS meeting agenda for further discussion. She expects to hear additional funding requests from Facilities Director Chris Burney at April 19 BOS meeting. Ultimately, the BOS will have to decide which of the many proposed infrastructure projects will receive funding.