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Stonington looking at upgrading floodgates to drive mill redevelopment

Stonington -- Town officials have been discussing whether the town should invest in upgrading the Mechanic Street floodgate system as a way to lower flood insurance rates and make the mills along the Pawcatuck River more attractive to redevelopment.

The gates, along with earthen berms and pumps, are designed to protect the mill buildings and some surrounding homes from flooding if the Pawcatuck River overflows its banks.

Last week, Board of Finance members discussed the possibility of upgrading the system so it could be accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Board member Blunt White, who is also chairman of the town’s Economic Development Commission, told finance board members that if this was done, the business in the mills would not have to pay for flood insurance.

He said this would help attract new mill tenants as the EDC tries to convince the Planning and Zoning Commission to expand the uses that are allowed in mills to possibly include retail use and space geared toward entrepreneurs.

The mill space, much of which is vacant, is only zoned for manufacturing use.

“If we got it accredited it would create more upside,” he said.

Board member Glenn Frishman suggested the board look into the costs of accreditation, which members agreed to do.

Recently, the Board of Finance approved $27,000 in funding to hook the pump house up to electricity so it could cease renting generators.

Town Engineer Scott Deledda said that the first step in meeting FEMA accreditation standards is to conduct a detailed study of the various components of the system to see what improvements would need to be made. He estimated the cost of the study to be about $100,000. He said the system is inspected each year by the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure it is functioning properly. The FEMA accreditation process, however, would require the system to meet much higher standards. The town currently spends $35,000 a year to maintain the system.

At this point, Deledda said town officials have not approached him about including money for a study in the upcoming 2017-18 budget. He said the town will have to weigh the economic benefits of the accreditation process versus its cost.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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