The Connecticut Fund for the Environment and New Haven put forth a proposal to create a living shoreline at East Shore Park, a coastal recreational area that, while beloved by residents, is prone to flooding. If successful, the East Shore Park project will become the longest stretch of living shoreline in the state.
As opposed to traditional shoreline management strategies, living shorelines rely on biological materials, native vegetation and natural land patterns to create coastal stability. Living shorelines are relatively new to the Northeast as a result of the region’s high population density and characteristic wave conditions. However, the planners of the East Shore Park project find the living shoreline concept to be no less necessary in a diverse, mid-sized city like New Haven.
Currently, the planners of the East Shore Park project are awaiting grant approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which they must receive before proceeding with implementation.
“The bottom line is resiliency and sustainability,” said Elsa Loehmann, the CFE’s Associate Director of River Restoration. “We have to make sure that we create a system that we don’t have to go back and fix every 10 years.”
The CFE aims to restore the park to a natural balance in a number of ways. First, the angle of repose between the shore and the beach will be reduced. According to Loehmann, this will not only combat erosion, but also encourage the propagation of intertidal zones, a feature of the natural habitat that has been significantly reduced in the past few decades.
Project planners also want to increase the shore’s proportion of marshland, another common feature of living shoreline proposals. To do so, they will replace hardened materials with native plants and organic components. At the heart of the proposal is a commitment to protecting, restoring and enhancing natural shoreline habitat, Loehmann said.
“When the park was constructed [in the 1950s or 1960s], it was constructed from fill [from other sites]. They filled in the coastal areas so that they were higher and drier,” Loehmann said. “When they did that, they changed the profile of the beach and the natural morphological system.”
Both citizens and the environment are dealing with the repercussions today, Loehmann said. Because of severe erosion, the traverse from beach to shore is not only difficult but also dangerous.
Still, the park is highly frequented, making the East Shore community one of many groups who have a stake in the park’s longevity. To navigate these interests, the proposal has relied largely on collaboration and advocacy for its progress.
For example, the CFE has been working closely with city engineer Giovanni Zinn. The East Shore Park project is one of three living shoreline projects currently underway in New Haven, Zinn said. In each case, the engineering office works in close cooperation with ecologists and project organizers, and carry out continuous research and detailed site study.
One of the CFE’s primary focuses in the future will be doing local outreach and communicating the group’s plan to the public, Loehmann said.
When asked about the importance of community engagement in a project such as East Shore’s, Yale-affiliated ecologist and registered landscape architect Alex Felson highlighted two aspects that he keeps in mind when implementing his own work: mutual respect and commitment.
“When you’re working with communities, it’s really a different pace,” Felson said. “There’s a commitment that’s necessary to realize the goals you set out, and also to participate. There’s an important need to manage expectations: to know what [the communities’] goals are, know what your goals are, and to be upfront about your interests and what you’re trying to get out of the project.”
The project will be covering approximately 3,200 linear feet of shoreline, or just over half a mile.