A Baltimore molder and a Wyoming start-up company are spearheading an effort to build easy-to-assemble plastic flood walls, a project that could provide a much faster way to contain spreading waters than laborious sandbagging.
The project needs more testing but thus far the Legolike structures — 8-foot-long, 1-foot-tall and 4-foot-deep joinable polyethylene blocks — have held water in controlled demonstrations, said Bruce Shrider, president of Creative Plastics Inc. in Baltimore.
The hollow blocks fill with water for stability. They are made of a very flexible grade of metallocene PE supplied by Dow Plastics.
Custom rotational molder Creative Plastics will move to a new facility in August in nearby Baltimore County, thanks to anticipated growth from the project and other business. The new plant will triple its space, to 54,000 square feet, Shrider said.
The company has two rotomolding machines now, and has one on order. The new plant has room for as many as 12 more, he said, and each can produce 800 of the blocks per week.
Shrider declined to provide details about the investment in the new plant.
Federal flood control officials said the plan has potential but they want to see more real-world tests done.
``I'd put it in the category of very promising, innovative technologies,'' said Art Walz, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers administrator who has seen demonstrations and looked at the project.
The other company developing the project, Casper, Wyo.-based SWI Mitigation Services Inc., has run out of money, but the start-up firm has been working to secure more funding, said President David Kreycik. This is its only project.
``The company had X amount of dollars to deliver the project,'' Kreycik said. ``Budgeting is very difficult with a start-up. Funds expired before the project got started.''
Those financial problems have led Creative to assume a ``leadership role'' in the marketing and distribution, in addition to its previous plans to manufacture the product for SWI, Shrider said.
Officials from the two companies said they are cooperating on the project but said both hold licenses to manufacture and sell it independently. Kreycik said it is a ``future desire'' for SWI to build its own plant.
Kreycik noted that he was an accountant who was asked by the designer of the wall, Dennis Peppard, to become president of SWI. He said he did not know what Peppard's background is.
The project was developed for slow-moving water, not extreme situations where a raging river is flooding, Shrider said: ``We feel very comfortable it will hold back calm water.''
But both he and Lynell Johnson, SWI's government affairs director, said more testing is needed.
The wall is designed to work on any surface, ranging from soil to parking lots, Shrider said. It also has potential for containing chemical leaks or runoff from mines, he said.
Harold Andress, manager of the National Dam Safety Program at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the project is viable, but that SWI has taken the wrong approach in getting federal support.
The company tried to get in the side door with regulators and lobbied Congress, when it should have come in with a full research and development program. ``They've got it all backwards,'' Andress said.
``We're not ready to sign off on it. They haven't had an operational test yet. That is one of the hurdles,'' he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers has a two-year project to study temporary innovative flood control projects, which may include this project, according to Walz. The study would not endorse products but would list the strengths and weaknesses of all the approaches it examined, he said.