Coast Guard Museum Developers Learn About Flood Plain Issues In FEMA Meeting
By Judy Benson 
The Day
July 7, 2016
New London — The outcome of a recent meeting between the representatives of the National Coast Guard Museum and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has left the door open to building at a site on the downtown waterfront in the federal flood zone.
FEMA and Coast Guard museum officials met last week in Boston to review requirements related to building at the site next to Union Station in the 100-year flood zone, so labeled because it has a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year.
Also participating in the meeting were officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who issue permits for buildings in coastal areas.
“I don’t think they ran into anything insurmountable,” said Dennis Pinkham, spokesman for FEMA. “We’ve had other agencies that have had to build in flood plains, that had to change their designs” to comply with the regulations.
Dick Grahn, president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, said the June 30 meeting was a productive discussion about flood plain regulations, FEMA’s concerns about the location on the banks of the Thames River, and technical issues related to how best to comply with the regulations. The parties will meet again by phone July 14 to continue the discussions.
“FEMA wanted to think about how best to advise us,” he said. “The upshot is that there’s nothing insurmountable.”
Pinkham said the regulations for building on a flood plain are developed and administered by the state and the city. Specific requirements are incorporated into the city’s building and zoning regulations.
Kirk Kripas, the city’s building official, said the occupied portion of the museum would have to be elevated at least 16 feet above the ground — about 1.5 stories high — to comply with the flood plain management regulations.
City zoning regulations also require that sewage and waste disposal systems be elevated above 14 feet, the base elevation of the 100-year flood.
Utility equipment, including furnaces, air conditioners, ventilation and circuit breakers, would also have to be elevated. The ground-level portion of the building would have to be designed to let flood waters pass through, and utilities and plumbing would have to be flood-proofed, within water-tight walls and a supporting structure that can withstand water pressure of flooding.
Pinkham said the July 14 meeting will be a telephone conference call between FEMA, representatives of the museum association, the Coast Guard and DEEP.
“Discussions will continue on the proposed conceptual design for the museum,” he said. “This is a work product meeting” and is not open to the public.
Grahn said the meetings with FEMA are among a series of meetings with agencies including DEEP, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Historic Preservation Office to learn what requirements will have to be met to build the museum at the downtown site. The Historic Preservation Office will consider the museum’s impact on Union Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once details of all the requirements of the various agencies are determined, he said, the architect for the museum will develop a design.
“Then we’ll attempt to cost it out,” Grahn said. “Once we see what kinds of additional restrictions will be imposed, we’ll have a roadmap for the design.”
The museum association is hoping to raise more than $50 million for the project from private sources. Thus far, about $8 million has been raised, Grahn said.
In addition to the $8 million, the state has pledged $20 million for a pedestrian bridge over Water Street that would be part of the museum project. The museum association is also hoping the federal government will contribute $25 million toward the building, in addition to $5 million in federal funds for building exhibits that has received initial congressional approvals.
Grahn said building at a site of less than half an acre — surrounded by railroad tracks, the train station, the Cross Sound Ferry terminals, Water Street and City Pier — will be complicated, but nonetheless doable. He said the museum building will need to be large enough to house at least 60,000 square feet of exhibit space.
“We’ve been asked by the Coast Guard and the city to build at that site,” Grahn said. “There are a lot of moving parts, but we’ve started to address all of them.”