Riverhead Town mulls ‘Muscle Wall’ to protect from floods

Riverhead Muscle Wall
TIM GANNON PHOTO | A Muscle Wall on display Wednesday afternoon in downtown Riverhead.

Can a Muscle Wall hold off the river?

The Utah company that makes the product says it can, and they gave a presentation to Riverhead Town officials on Wednesday afternoon.

Downtown Riverhead was flooded with about five feet of water during Hurricane Sandy last year, and many downtown businesses sustained damage to their electrical systems due to flooding in their basements.

Muscle Wall comprises 6-by-4 foot sections of a plastic wall that can be half-filled with water to weigh it down. Each section costs about $28 per square feet, or $672 for a 6-by-4 foot section, according to James Roy of Orange Industries, the company authorized to sell the product in the northeast.

Mr. Roy said the flood waters could even be used to fill the Muscle Wall using an ordinary sump pump. And, he said, the walls could be set up even after flooding has begun.

Town officials who viewed the presentation Wednesday said they liked the idea, but had to figure out how many feet of Muscle Wall the town would need if officials decided to purchase the equipment.

“I think it’s a great solution to a never-ending problem in Riverhead,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. “We used to have a flooding event every 10 years or so but it seems to happen more and more now. This is a way to protect the businesses on Main Street and also the town properties.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she reached out to Muscle Wall after Hurricane Sandy, and set up the meeting on Wednesday as well as one earlier in the year .

“We will do a survey and figure out how much we would need and how much it would cost,” she said. Town officials also hope the cost of the wall would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ms. Giglio said the Summerwind Square building, of which she is a part-owner, would not benefit because it is already built on higher elevation.

FILE PHOTO | The riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead under water during Sandy.

The benefits of Muscle Wall is that the components are light, with one section weighing 110 pounds before it’s filled with water, and portable, according to George Deussen, Muscle Wall’s vice president of business development. The walls are also much cheaper than using sand bags and require far less manpower to set up and take down, he said. He noted that unlike sandbags, Muscle Wall can be reused.

“It’s a mobile retaining wall,” Mr. Deussen said Wednesday.

One section of Muscle Wall would be the equivalent of 486 sand bags, he added.

The walls can easily connect together and are flexible, so they can be made to curve if necessary and act as a backbone for a plastic liner that is hung from the top of the wall and then weighed down in front of the wall, company officials say.

Once the floodwater gets on top of the liner, it is fastened down, and will not budge, according to Jared Taylor, the president of Muscle Wall and the product’s inventor.

“It’s virtually impossible to remove it,” Mr. Deussen said. ¬†Completely filled with water, the wall section would weigh 1,600 pounds, he said.

The idea of the Muscle Wall is not to try and hold back the river during a flood, but rather to protect certain buildings or facilities that are in line to be flooded, Mr. Taylor said.

The portable walls also could be used to stop sediment or silt while letting water pass through a permeable liner, or they could be used for pedestrian or traffic control, Mr. Deussen said.

Town officials envision using the wall to protect the rear of the stores in the riverfront parking lot.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he likes the product, but he doesn’t think the town should install it to protect private property. He believes the building owners should buy their own sections of Muscle Wall to protect their stores.

The town should use it to protect town-owned buildings like the East End Arts facility, he said.

But overall, he said he liked it the product.

“It’s a versatile product that can be used for a lot of things,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

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