'Muscle Wall' Could Hold Back Flooding

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Erosion , Storms

Muscle Wall company president Jaren Taylor explains the benefits of the flood and erosion protective structures, shown in the background, at Little Beach Thursday. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – A plastic barrier system is being eyed to protect against flooding and perhaps combat erosion in the Little Beach neighborhood.

Last Thursday representatives of Muscle Wall were at Outermost Harbor Marine to demonstrate possible uses of the four-foot-high polyethylene structures, which can be linked together to form a continuous wall.

“We refer to it as giant Legos,” said Chaz Housley, general manager of the 10-year-old Utah-based company.

The Little Beach area suffered extensive flooding during a series of nor'easters last winter. Water flooded roads and residences and storm waves did extensive damage to the dune system. Outermost Harbor Marine owner Farrell Kahn said there was three feet of water in the marina's office building. He plans to surround the building with the Muscle Wall this winter as well as use the structures to prevent stormwater from coming up the marina's boat ramp. That was a major source of neighborhood flooding during this past winter's storms.

Town officials and neighborhood residents attended Thursday's demonstration. Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said while the structures seemed suitable for flood control, using them along beaches would require the same environmental review as any other “hard” erosion control structure, such as a rock revetment.

“They wouldn't be treated any differently,” he said.

Since use of the structures for flood control would be temporary, their impact would be “pretty minimal,” Duncanson said, although because they will be used within 100 feet of a wetlands resource area, a request for determination would have to be filed with the conservation commission.

The plastic barriers have been used for flood control around sewer plants, nuclear power stations and buildings in Manhattan, said Housley. Empty, the barriers weigh about 120 pounds and can easily be moved around by two people. When filled with 150 gallons of water, they weigh 1,400 pounds; one four-foot section can replace 468 sandbags, he said.

“We really use water to fight against water,” said company president Jaren Taylor. A rubber liner can be used to help anchor the structures in place.

“Most of the time we surround the facility, so (water) doesn't come behind it and come in,” added Housley. If flooding overtops the structure, it can easily be moved to release flood water, he added.

For three years the Muscle Wall has been used for erosion control along a one-mile section of Capistrano Beach in California, Taylor said. The scalloped design can help trap sand and the wall can be staggered to create multiple levels.

A water-filled barrier known as an Aquatube that surrounded the Outermost office and store building during a nor'easter in March failed. In researching other flood control solutions, he found the Muscle Wall received considerable praise. “People couldn't say enough about it,” he said. Along with surrounding the building and blocking the launching ramp during storm events, he is considering using them to raise the bulkhead at the marina.

“We're having engineers look at that now,” he said.

The creation of the Fool's Break in April 2017 and its widening during last winter's nor'easters raised tide levels in the Little Beach area and helped propel storm waters over roads and into waterfront condos in the neighborhood. The town recently received a state coastal resiliency grant to help fund a comprehensive study of the eastern shoreline, and property owners have received permission to bolster the dune system in the area by adding sand. Homeowners in Little Beach and on Morris and Stage Islands – which were isolated when roads flooded during storms – have been working with the town to address the situation. They say the flooding impacts 148 properties with a combined assessed value of $313 million, accounting for some $1.5 million in annual property taxes.

Property owners plan to hold discussions with Farrell about how the Muscle Wall can be used to prevent stormwater flooding, said area resident Janet Dugan. They are particularly interested in blocking off an unused section of Little Beach Road which runs in front of some of the properties and served as a conduit for flood waters during storms. Duncanson said the barriers could possibly be used where Starfish Lane and Little Beach Road intersect, but there is a question about the ownership of the Little Beach Road extension.

“We have to find out what the legal status of that is,” he said.

He added that recently announced federal and state emergency management grants for coastal resiliency projects might be applicable to flood and erosion control using the Muscle Wall.

If all goes according to plan, Farrell said, he will stock the Muscle Walls for sale and installation for the Cape Cod area.

Housley said the Muscle Wall has been used in all 50 states and in Canada, China and throughout Europe. The structures are designed to prevent damage, particular during hurricanes and nor'easters. “More and more people have to be prepared and be proactive,” given the increased frequency and intensity of storms, he said.

“It's got potential,” Duncanson said, but because of state and local wetlands regulations, “it may not be as easy as let's put these out next week.”