Senior Design Journey 2022: Holding Back the Flood Waters in Bridgeport, Part 1

(Image courtesy Waggonner & Ball, a partner on Resilient Bridgeport)


By: Eli Freund, Editorial Communications Manager, UConn School of Engineering

Living near an ocean or large body of water has consequences. Over the past 20 years, climate related disasters have jumped 83 percent and major floods have more than doubled, according to the United Nations. The south-end of Bridgeport is no stranger to these statistics, as they have seen financial and human implications to these storms first-hand. But, through a University of Connecticut Civil and Environmental Engineering Senior Design Project, four students are working to change that narrative through their work on a new flood wall.

After large weather events like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and others, the City of Bridgeport had been hit hard on its southern end, according to team member Zachary Sedor:

“After Hurricane Sandy and others, Bridgeport had been hurt pretty bad by the flooding that resulted from major storms,” Sedor said. “Because of that, our main goal is to design a flood wall, as well as the route it would need to take to protect the most amount of people and the most important infrastructure, while costing the least amount, effecting the least number of sightlines and lowering residents’ insurance by a significant amount.”

The flood wall, part of a larger project of flood mitigation called Resilient Bridgeport, is being managed by professional services firm WSP, in conjunction with CEE students Sedor, Caitlin Jenkins, Andrew Mora, and Kelvin Chung. The creation of a flood wall would not only protect the people in the area but would also alleviate property owners of high flood insurance costs they’re required to pay.

While Hurricane Sandy was nearly ten years ago, and funding for design work was procured by WSP, on behalf of the state of Connecticut soon after that from the Community Development Block Grant Program – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), Jenkins said that there are a lot of factors that must be juggled before shovels can finally be put in the ground.

“For creating the flood wall, it’s a process that requires a lot of approvals and permits, because of the historical landmarks that blanket the path of the wall,” Jenkins said. “You have Seaside Park, which was designed by the landscape architect that built Central Park in New York City, you also have the Freeman Houses, which are on the National Register of Historic Places, and there are a lot of approvals needed if you’re building near those properties.”

Jenkins also said that WSP spent a lot of time soliciting feedback from the residents and business owners who would be around the flood wall. She said a lot of them had concerns, which needed to be integrated into the design of the wall.

“There were folks that had concerns about the effect a wall would have on seeing the waterline and the park, and where the wall would need to cut through,” Jenkins said.

In addition to all that feedback, the wall would still need to adhere to very strict FEMA codes and Army Corp of Engineers guidelines that couldn’t be ignored.

Because of all these complexities, the group said that there were plenty of hurdles that have gotten in the way of their progress.

“While WSP has a design in place for the flood wall, what we’re doing is going through their design, seeing if there are any improvements that could be made, and updating elements that need to be incorporated, which is a large job,” Chung said. “There are electrical lines, sub stations, gas pipes, terrain, and more.”

The substation particularly, is a crucial part of the flood zone, requiring special attention, according to Mora.

“There’s a critical piece of infrastructure called the Pequonnock Substation in that flood zone that, if it lost power, would effect customers all across the New England area,” Mora said. “There’s also a natural gas plant over there as well, so there’s a lot of critical infrastructure that needed to be integrated into this plan.”

Over the next several months, the group will be working on their suggestions for WSP, as well  as working on force calculations, gathering data for WSP, and other crucial tasks.

Despite all the challenges the group has faced, the most satisfying element of this project is helping a city in need.

“This project, even more so than most, emphasizes the importance of details,” Sedor said. “You’re effecting people’s lives in a positive and negative way, depending on where you choose to have the wall or what type of wall you choose, so you need to cover your bases, or else you could negatively affect a large group of people. But, if you do it correctly, you’re not only protecting lives and property, but also taking a huge financial burden off the people directly in that flood zone.”

This article is part of a multi-part series on engineering students, and their journey through senior design. Part two of this team’s journey will come out in April 2022.


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