Monday, November 4, 2013

Dodge Paddock: A year later

A year ago this week, we were still shaking our heads over the enormity of the impact of Super Storm Sandy. The hurricane force winds combined with extreme high tides, and a huge storm surge hurled water and debris throughout the Dodge Paddock at the end of Wall Street in Stonington Borough.
Water surging into the parking lot.
No one ever remembers the water being so high and so forceful. Boulders were tossed like pebbles, and logs burst through the old seawall like battering rams. The breach allowed more debris to flow in. The higher marsh and meadow were covered with all manner of litter: logs, boards, docks ropes, glass and plastic, as well as about a foot of seaweed and other vegetation. The small brackish pond was completely flooded and the drainage outflow, a clamshell covered culvert, was broken, filled and slammed shut with rocks too big to move. Water flowed all the way back toward the houses on Main Street, and Wall Street was under several feet of water. It was almost too unbearable to witness and impossible to try to figure out what to do first.
The breach in the seawall.
Debris on the Meadow.
The obstructed clamshell drain pipe.
The water did recede some on its own. It flowed out the same way it flowed in, leaving behind a terrible mess. Avalonia volunteers and a contractor with a small tractor were able to move rocks and create a trench to uncover the clamshell and dig it out enough to let some of the flood to flow out. This reduced the level of water throughout the preserve. Again volunteers banded together to clear a huge fallen tree and collected bags of litter and trash and made piles of wooden material. Another contractor with a larger machine came in and did a day’s work moving the vast mat of vegetation and organic debris off the meadow and piled it along the undermined seawall . He moved the boulders and large logs and in some areas was able to move sand and gravel in ways to recreate some dune structure that had been destroyed.
The drain pipe dug out and working.
The CT DEEP stepped in to give more help and support and was able to grant emergency permission to accomplish much of the work. This kind of effort in a coastal zone often requires extensive permitting, but due to the emergency nature of the situation after Sandy, they helped us expedite matters.
Things seemed to stay on an even keel for a while, but spring storms reclosed the clamshell. In June we had massive rainstorms that refilled and flooded the Paddock. With summer and mosquito season imminent, the DEEP agreed to step in once again to create an emergency “swale”: a ditch out to the south side of the preserve to drain the flood waters. What a difference! Within hours the flood waters receded. Within a few days the meadow and marsh began to dry out.
After June rains, more flooding.
Creating the swale to release the flood waters.
Throughout the season the area began to recover. DEEP has begun a program to eradicate the invasive phragmities.  The pond will remain a small, shallow, brackish pond that will serve to hold run off from the town streets, but now it will not flood to the height it had. Native plants will begin to establish themselves along the perimeter and will also contribute to the health of the area and create a better habitat for wildlife. As the meadow grass grew back, it covered the scars left behind by Sandy, and the area took on a look of health and beauty.
Cutting Phragmites.
Looking at it a year later, some scars are visible. The seawall remains broken and cannot be efficiently repaired. Storms will continue to batter the shoreline. Water may flow in with a big storm, but now it can flow out. A healthy marsh and meadow can help buffer the impacts of storms and surge. Wildlife will return to the Paddock.
There is still work to be done and we are grateful to the CT DEEP for their help and generosity in restoring the area. It will take a while, but there are already lovely paths to walk again and the water views cannot be beat! Enjoy!
The entry way to Dodge Paddock.
Written by Beth Sullivan.   Photos by Beth Sullivan and Binti Ackley.

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