Rethinking the Connecticut Shore

{By Peg Van Patten, Connecticut Sea Grant}

Do you remember the storm that cancelled Halloween in 2012? You likely do if you live in a Connecticut coastal town or city. Sandy’s impact went far beyond that trick or treat. By the time the mammoth, slow-moving October Superstorm departed, it had damaged or destroyed more than 7,000 homes and businesses on the Connecticut shore alone, and left millions of people on the eastern seaboard without power. Cities and communities today face the challenge of not merely rebuilding, but rebuilding with a better design that will take climate change and sea level rise into account. Constrained budgets make that a difficult task, so the plans need to be cost-effective too.

Today, a lot of recovery and rebuilding work remains to be done. UConn’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) is facilitating the State of Connecticut Department of Housing and partner agencies in applying for a grant in the billion dollar National Disaster Resilience Competition. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation  are collaborating to provide resources and support to communities to make them more resilient, given the risks of extreme weather due to climate change. UConn CIRCA is part of a large team of state agencies and academic partners at UConn and Yale who are drafting a resilience plan for the application to be submitted by the State of Connecticut, Department of Housing (DOH). Phase 1 of the two-part process does not involve specific project suggestions, but rather opening conversation with communities and individuals about the most pressing needs and innovative solutions that could be employed.

The resilience proposal specifically targets Fairfield and New Haven counties, which are the areas most heavily impacted by Sandy in Connecticut. These are also the areas of heavily concentrated urban populations, many of which are low to moderate income families.  The proposal to date considers areas vulnerable to flooding and storm surge, key connections between the areas in the floodplain and high ground, and resilience centers outside of the floodplain. The new plan outlines how to support development within resilience zones outside of the floodplain including supporting transit oriented development, economic resilience, green infrastructure and job creation, as well as more walkable, bike- able centers. In times of flooding access to communities in the floodplain has been interrupted which can impede evacuations and also block the flow of emergency responders, equipment and supplies. The plan therefore includes protecting resilience corridors which ensure access to vulnerable communities. The proposal also includes components to support shorefront communities in the most vulnerable areas. One of the competition’s requirements is that the proposed measures be potentially transportable to other parts of the state as well.

The planning team has a web page on CIRCA’s site where informative visual presentations from the three public hearings recently held can be viewed, as well as a link to the draft application and instructions for commenting to CT DOH. If you think the idea of reshaping a better Connecticut shoreline with a robust future is exciting, here is your chance to chime in. Comments will be accepted until March 4. If the Phase I is successful and moves to Phase II, specific actions for resiliency, Connecticut will stand more resolutely against an onslaught by the next monster storm.