June 8, 2015 - Report: Warming water in LI Sound altering fish populations, Stamford Times
WESTPORT - A report on the health of Long Island Sound says fish such as black seabass and summer flounder that prefer warm water are appearing more frequently due to warming caused by climate change.
The report released Monday by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation also says fish such as winter flounder, Atlantic herring and red herring that prefer cold water are slowly decreasing.
Data were collected by government agencies in Connecticut, New York state, New York City and university partners.
The report also said fisheries such as oysters, scallops and lobsters and salt marshes and seagrasses that once were widespread have been reduced due to environmental degradation from development, fishing and climate change.
With low bacteria levels, areas were accessible to swimming most of the time.
June 5, 2015 - Session tally: Energy and environment hits, misses and almosts, CT Mirror
Energy and environmental initiatives in the legislature were already heading toward half-a-loaf results before the end-of-session budget impasse erupted. In the end, several of those bills were among the many that died when time ran out.
Most notable was an energy bill that would have set in motion actions designed to begin modernizing Connecticut's electric grid.
"I'm not happy about it, but this is not a business for sissies," said Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee. "You don't get all weepy. You figure out a new way."...
June 1, 2015 - New bike lane in Milford is first of its kind in the state, Milford Mirror
Contraflow bike lane is part of East Coast Greenway trail from Maine to Florida
The East Coast Greenway Alliance teamed up with Milford to create the state's first contraflow bike lane, which was officially opened Saturday at Wilcox Park.
Contraflow bicycle lanes are designed to allow bicyclists to ride in the opposite direction of motor vehicle traffic. They convert a one-way traffic street into a two-way street: one direction for motor vehicles and bikes, and the other for bikes only, according to the East Coast Greenway website.
"The concept [for the Milford project] was born when our Trail Coordinator Eric Weis met with Connecticut DOT's Kate Rattan and Milford Planner David Sulkis," the East Coast website states. "The meeting's focal point was on Shipyard Lane, a lightly used, one-way street only accessible to East Coast Greenway northbound users. Milford Mayor Ben Blake gave the project a green light this spring."
The East Coast Greenway Alliance coordinated with the Milford Public Works Department, Connecticut DOT, and the Milford Planning Department to design the short stretch of roadway as a contraflow bike lane. The lane connects north and southbound travelers through the quarter mile stretch bounded by Harborside Drive and the pedestrian bridge spanning the harbor.
"This is the very first contraflow bike lane in the state of Connecticut," said Molly Henry, New England coordinator for East Coast Greenway, during Saturday's ribbon cutting ceremony. "So you guys are setting the bar and hopefully this will become a model that folks can use throughout Connecticut."
June 1, 2015 - Stormwise site in Voluntown will show how to better manage roadside forests, The Day
Voluntown - For resilient roadside trees, broad and bushy beats tall and slender.
"A big part of what we love about Connecticut is our forested roads," Jeff Ward, senior scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Stationsaid Friday, surveying a line of thin, towering white pines paralleling utility wires along Route 165. "What we want to show municipal officials and landowners is that they can manage their roadside forests, to show that you can have a nice looking, healthy forest that provides good habitat and reliable power."
As part of the state's Stormwise project, created in response to widespread outages after severe storms in 2011, Ward and Thomas Worthley, assistant extension professor at the University of Connecticut, have identified this property in the Pachaug State Forest as the New London County resilient, healthy roadside forest.
By the end of this year, many of the tallest pines and oaks that threaten the power lines in this 100-foot wide, 1,100-foot long strip will be thinned out. Shorter growing varieties such as dogwood, blue beech, witch hazel and ironwood will be encouraged, and pepperbush and other native shrubs given room to spread into needed wildlife habitat.
Overall, the plan favors trees with fat trunks and wide crowns that are best able to stand firm when buffeted by strong winds. After a buffer of the stoutest trees along the road and utility lines, there would be a second tier of oaks and maples, then, farthest from the road, the tallest growing evergreens.
"We want to bring forest management right out front where everyone can see it," said Worthley. "We can have forests that provide all the stormwater control, wildlife habitat and aesthetic benefits, but are less risky. What we want to communicate to the public is that there will be a change, and it will require some disturbance."
The purpose of Stormwise, a collaboration of UConn's Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and the School of Engineering, the state, the state's two biggest utilities and the U.S. Forest Service, is to create more resilient border woodlands, since fallen trees are the main cause of outages. One site in each of the state's six counties has been chosen to demonstrate the management techniques the Stormwise team is advocating....
May 30, 2015 - A Glimpse Into A 'Cool,' Rare Barrier-Beach Ecosystem, Hartford Courant
Each year, I flip through the pages of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's "Connecticut Trails Day Weekend" pamphlet in search of hikes I've never done before. This year it didn't take long to find one, as I leafed through to East Lyme and the words "the highest dunes and best examples of maritime woodland in Connecticut" caught my attention.
Dunes? In Connecticut? Cape Cod has dunes. Rhode Island has dunes. Connecticut has miles and miles of private, stone-walled shoreline where houses go right up to the beach. Dunes on Long Island Sound seems like a fairy tale.
But as I stood on the shores of Old Black Point Beach with The Nature Conservancy's assistant director of land management, David Gumbart, on a cloudy late May morning, Long Island Sound dunes were no fairy tale. They are part of an amazing ecosystem I never thought I would see in Connecticut - a maritime scrub woodland perched on the edge of a high dune along a sandy barrier beach.
"From a scientific point of view, this is one cool place," Gumbart said as we walked along the beach of the private Old Black Point Association.
Gumbart said places like Old Black Point Beach are very rare in Connecticut, due to limited coastal dune formation. The conservancy has teamed with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the 17-acre site, which includes a relatively undisturbed barrier beach, sand flats and a portion of Pattagansett Marsh.
Places like barrier beaches are important to study as climate change causes the sea level to rise, Gumbart noted. The barrier beach was breached during storm Sandy, but old Christmas trees and wooden snow fencing were put in place, allowing the dune to restore itself....
May 29, 2015 - Tick-Tock: Countdown To Lyme Disease Season Is Over, Hartford Courant
...As tick populations have continued to spread into new territories thanks in part to shifting climate patterns and widespread residential development, experts say Lyme disease has become a mounting problem. In 2013, 95 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from 14 states (see link at end of story)....
May 28, 2015 - Branford hires New London official as new town planner, New Haven Register
...Some of the immediate issues Smith is tasked with include examining how the town can take advantage of the train station to establish transit-oriented development, which connects pedestrians to the town center and train stations.
First Selectman James B. Cosgrove said Smith was one of a dozen candidates who applied for the position; six were interviewed.
"It's good to have somebody on board that has his experience and depth of knowledge," Cosgrove said.
Smith said another reason he chose to accept the job was because it gives him an opportunity to develop coastal resilience measures. This means working with the community to identify public infrastructure, private property and natural resources that can be vulnerable to coastal storm activity, Smith said.
Coastal resilience has become a "huge concern" for shoreline towns, Cosgrove said.
"Working for New London, he has a lot of experience with environmental impact, which is important for Branford," Cosgrove said....
May 27, 2015 - NOAA Predicts Below Average Hurricane Season Due To El Ni??o, Hartford Courant
The Atlantic hurricane season will be below average, curbed by warm water in the Pacific due to El Ni?o, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday.
During its annual forecast, NOAA said the Atlantic Ocean will churn up six to 11 tropical storms, three to six hurricanes and zero to two major hurricanes during the season, which starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
A named storm has sustained winds of at least 39 mph. A hurricane has sustained winds of at least 74 mph. A major hurricane is a Category 3 or greater, meaning it has sustained winds of at least 111 mph. Any storm can have gusts that are more powerful than the sustained winds.
El Ni?o is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that result in strong, upper-level westerly winds, which break apart developing storms and hurricanes.
"The main factor expected to suppress the hurricane season this year is El Ni?o, which is already affecting wind and pressure patterns, and is forecast to last through the hurricane season," Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said in a statement.
El Ni?o could intensify as the season progresses, and is expected to be a stronger influence during peak months of the season, Bell said. NOAA also expects sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic to be close to normal, and warmer waters typically support storm development when El Ni?o is not a factor.
The forecast included Tropical Storm Ana, which made landfall May 10 in South Carolina. But that pre-season storm is not an indicator of the overall strength of the hurricane season, according to NOAA.
Ana was a typical pre-season storm in that it formed along the frontal boundaries associated with a trough in the jet stream. Ana's development differed from the way named storms form during the peak of the season, from mid-August to late October. During the peak of hurricane season, storms mainly form out of low-pressure systems moving westward from Africa, and are independent of frontal boundaries and the jet stream.
The hurricane forecast does not include whether the storms will make landfall, or if they will make landfall in the U.S.
"Where a hurricane strikes, how strong it is when it strikes and so on, depends on the weather patterns that are in place at the time the storm is approaching," Bell said during a conference call Wednesday with media. "And those weather patterns just are not predicable more than about a week in advance."
Hurricane Gloria in September 1985 was the last time the eye of a hurricane made landfall in Connecticut. Hurricane Bob tracked through Rhode Island in August 1991. Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 was downgraded from hurricane status by the time it swept through Connecticut. The core of storm Sandy in October 2012 did not pass through Connecticut, though the rain, wind and storm surge ravaged the state.
Impact On Insurers
Property-casualty insurers such as Allstate, GEICO, The Hartford, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, State Farm and Travelers have a lot at stake during hurricane season because just one storm can cause billions of dollars in damage. For example, Sandy in 2012 cost insurers $18.75 billion in claims, not including an additional $7.3 billion in flood claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a property-casualty research organization.
Forecasts like NOAA's don't factor into the actuarial science that insurers use to set aside money for claims. While insurers take note of the forecast, a prediction for a below-average hurricane season can still cost insurers a lot of money if only one storm hits an area with a lot of property, said Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the Insurance Information Institute, a property-casualty research organization. Similarly, an active hurricane season could swirl up storms that all curve out into the Atlantic and never make landfall.
"The prediction for activity can be somewhat misleading," Hartwig said. "The only way for insurers to prepare is to hope for the best and assume the worst. Insurers have to be prepared to pay a [Hurricane] Katrina-sized event even if the projection is for zero storms because there have been years when the activity has fallen well outside what had actually been predicted. That can happen in any given year."
The cost to insurers also depends on where a storm hits. A relatively sparsely populated stretch of the Texas coast is a lot different from downtown Miami, Hartwig said.
Last year, NOAA's forecast before the season started called for eight to 13 tropical storms, three to six hurricanes, and one or two major hurricanes. The season delivered eight tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
May 18, 2015 - Paying for a view: Storm victims who elevate homes may see new a view tax, Milford Mirror
When Thomas Rea was required to elevate his shoreline home after Hurricane Sandy, he was surprised and not too happy to learn that his taxes would go up due to new views the additional height brought.
The property field card from the assessor's office that details the assessment of his property has new letters and numbers on it. The letters, "PMV" stand for "partial marsh views," and there is a "+20%" next to the "PMV."
This means that the assessment on his land on Pearl Street in the Silver Sands Beach area increased 20% because of those partial marsh views.
Rea says his view hasn't changed much since elevating his home - something the government told him he had to do, he points out. From his back deck he can still see some of Silver Sands State Park, the adjacent marsh, and a neighbor's yard that is filled with cars, car parts and various debris.
Still, the elevation and its corresponding view means he will have to pay $351 in view tax that he didn't pay before.
Rea was surprised when he got a letter telling him about the view tax.
"With everything we went through, I don't think it's fair," Rea said.
Rea's house, along with others in the area, was slammed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Irene before that, and rendered unlivable. Rea was told his house suffered more than 53% damage, so in order to get the permits to fix the storm damage and move back in, he had to first pay to elevate his home.
He rented a house in West Haven for more than a year as he worked through paperwork and then borrowed money to fix his house: He now has a mortgage, which he didn't have before. He finally moved back in last January.
He wasn't expecting a higher property assessment after all was said and done.
"If they want to balance the budget," Rea said, "I don't want them to do it on the backs of the storm victims."
Milford residents have been paying more for nice views for years. In 2006, with revaluation, people along the shoreline braced for substantial tax increases because the sales prices for properties along the shore increased proportionately more than those of homes inland. The revaluation reflected that market swing, adding to the assessments of homes on the shoreline.
"We add value to land for a view," said City Assessor Daniel Thomas. "We add as much as 50% for a clear, unobstructed view of the water."
The increase, however, applies only to the appraisal and assessment of the land, not the improvements on it, so in most cases, that hike might apply only to one-third of the property tax assessment.
It's all about the "views, views, views," Thomas said, quoting real estate ads for shoreline properties. Views do indeed increase the value of a home, he said, and one real estate agent confirmed that views can add 30% to the overall value of a property.
Thomas said the city tracked 50 properties, and view "clearly had an impact" on the sales price.
In Rea's case, his land was assessed at $78,850 before Sandy. After Sandy the city assessor's office took into account that the area was devastated by the storm and lowered that to $64,510 in 2013. That was for the land only. At the same time the house went from an assessment of $101,940 to $94,210, according to city records.
In 2014, after Rea repaired and elevated his house, his land assessment went from $64,510 to $77,410. It's lower than it was in 2012, but that is because the assessor's office is still taking into account the fact that Silver Sands is in transition following the storm.
"It works both ways," Thomas said, explaining that some conditions will lead the city to lower the assessment, and therefore lower the amount of taxes that can be collected from a property owner.
The house, with its new windows and new siding - plus an additional bathroom - jumped from an assessment of $94,210 to $136,070 after it was elevated, and that's even substantially higher than the pre-storm assessment of $101,940.
The jump is based on the structural improvements. But again, Rea questions the hike: "I had to replace the windows. The other ones had been under water," he said.
So what did the storm and the needed repairs do to Rea's tax bill? Bear in mind that the mill rate changes each year, but using the current mill rate of 27.22, the taxes on 18 Pearl Street go from $4,921 based on 2012 figures to $4,320 based on the 2013 assessment, to $5,810 based on the current assessment.
That means that post-Sandy, taking into account new views and new construction required to bring his home into compliance, Rea will pay about $1,000 more in taxes than he did before the storm, more if you consider that the mill rate was lower pre-Sandy.
More to come
With many homes in Milford still in the process of being elevated, there are more people who, like Rea, will find themselves with higher tax bills, and some will see a view tax they didn't see before.
The city assessor estimates that one-third to one-half of the properties that do not stand right on the shore but had to elevate will see a new view tax. It all depends on the view: If the house next door also elevated, blocking a potential view, then there would be no new assessment for the scenery.
"We're pretty careful about how we apply it," Thomas said.
The properties on the water already paid more for their view, he said.
"Some assessors are afraid of applying it, but I haven't shied away from it," Thomas said. "It might feel like you're being penalized, but when an appraiser comes out if you're going to sell, you point to the view."
Paying for a view
The Internet is full of news articles about people in other regions lamenting their view tax, some paying a premium for mountain or other scenes they can see from their houses.
A 2010 CNN article by Cindy Perman advises people that if they buy a house near a golf course, that could impact the fair market value of their property.
"The location of your land is an important component of your home's valuation and taxes," the article states. "If you live close to town or a pretty lake, that's going to mean higher taxes. Pay attention to local construction. In the same way that construction of a new highway or chemical plant close to a home can dent its value, the addition of a golf course, lake or other amenity can boost the value of a home - and the tax bill."
Another expert quoted in the article pointed out that property values "are a double-edged sword" because people want their property values to go up, but they don't want their taxes to go up accordingly.
And according to a 1987 New York Times article by Richard D. Lyons, in 1986, when Burlington, Conn., residents complained about paying a view tax for their homes that sit atop a mountain, town officials insisted they were within their rights in adding the surcharges because pleasant views and fancy architecture add to property values.
In Milford, Thomas said, he's never specifically called it a "view tax," but he said it can be called that. Simply, "properties are assessed on their fair market value. If having two baths makes a property worth more than one bath, I as the assessor am obligated to recognize this. If it is a fact that views add value - and I don't believe there is any convincing argument that they don't - then I am obligated by law to assess."
In general, properties are reassessed every five years. But the law requires that the city reassess when the property physically changes; the law requires that assessors be copied on every certificate of occupancy that the building department issues, meaning the assessor's office knows when substantial improvements have been completed.
The view tax is nothing new, Thomas said.
"If a certain property tax is based on value, market value, and a view adds to that value, then I would suggest that folks have been paying tax on their views for a long time, whether it was called that or not," he said.
However, homeowners who are elevating their homes seem surprised by it.
"I am in the process of having my house raised," said a Melba Street resident. "Because I am using grant money, I have to live in the house for five years in order for the grant/loan to be forgiven. Do you mean that I will be penalized with higher taxes for coming into compliance with mandated FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] regulations? If that is so, the sooner I get out of Milford, the better."
A Hillside Avenue resident said her taxes did not increase, but her view didn't change. Still, she said she doesn't like the idea of other people's property taxes increasing after the homeowner worked to meet FEMA regulations.
"Many of us have already gone through and paid for variances for having to elevate," she said. "My water view hasn't changed, but if others are taxed, I'll fight that absurdity right along with them.
"Reprehensible," she added.
Right to appeal
Of course residents have the right to appeal their assessment.
There are three general methods of appeal, Thomas explained.
The first is an informal meeting with the assessor to discuss the assessment, review the information that it's based on and determine whether it is fair and equitable. This may also involve a visit to the property.
"This is usually deemed the best option because you are dealing with the individual responsible for the assessment and therefore the one best capable of dealing with the issues," Thomas said.
If not satisfied with the review by the assessor, a property owner may appeal to the Board of Assessment Appeals. They meet once a year, usually in March, to hear real estate assessment appeals. The filing period for application to meet with the Board of Assessment Appeals is Feb. 1 through Feb. 20 of each year.
Finally, if dissatisfied with the board's review, a property owner may appeal to Superior Court for remedy.
"In all instances, the fair market value of the property should be the overriding consideration," Thomas said.
A collection of administration officials will attend the event at the U.S. Institute of Peace to outline "new steps to boost climate resilience in the developing world," according to a White House announcement.
"It is encouraging that the United States is scaling up its climate resilience efforts and engaging a diverse set of stakeholders that each bring their own unique skills, resources and expertise," Heather McGray, director of vulnerability and adaptation at the World Resources Institute, said yesterday in a statement.
Last September, Obama released an executive order requiring agencies to "systematically" factor climate resilience into the government's international development programs. It came amid large increases of U.S. financial support for adaptation efforts around the world, like fighting malaria, building hydropower plants and improving transportation systems. The order is meant to ensure that those programs consider the effects of warming, like shifting mosquito ranges, changing water levels and sea-level rise.
The drought is on track to dry up $2.7 billion in revenue and erase more than 18,600 jobs from the California economy this year, according to a preliminary report. But that blow has been hard to detect because the agriculture sector is just 2% of the overall state economy and because farm employment has grown steadily in the last decade, a panel of experts told the state Board of Food and Agriculture....
North Carolina's most recent Sea-Level Rise Report is the product of decades of tidal gauge data, computer modeling and hundreds of years of collected scientific expertise. But Jon Britt doesn't need all that to tell him the water's getting higher. He just needs to look out his back door.
"If you look out to where the extended breakwater is, that helps protect us against the storms. The beach was probably beyond that," Britt says, pointing out across the Currituck Sound. "Probably 20 feet beyond that. This little hut that we're standing in right now, it used to be a long way to the water."...
Climate change may well be a factor in the increased intensity of hurricanes and other storms, President Obama said Thursday after a tour of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"Climate change didn't cause Hurricane Sandy, but it might have made it stronger," Obama said, referring to the 2012 mega-storm that hit parts of New Jersey and New York.
Obama, who headlined a pair of Democratic Party fundraisers Wednesday night in Miami, also received his annual hurricane preparedness briefing at the facility where officials track storms as they approach the U.S.
"The truth is, we are better prepared than ever for the storms of today," Obama said. "Technology has improved, forecasting has improved."
Torrential rains and widespread flooding in Texas have brought relief from a yearslong drought to many parts of the state. Such unpredictable and heavy rains are a big part of what climate scientists say that many Texans can expect in years to come.
The relief has come at a great cost. The death toll from storms across the state and Oklahoma has reached at least 19, by some estimates, and the property damage is so extensive that Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has declared some 40 counties disaster areas.
It was not long ago that the state was dealing with a searing drought. In 2011, the drought was so pronounced that the governor then, Rick Perry, proclaimed three days in April "days of prayer for rain in Texas." Parts of the state began to see the drought ease by 2012, but much of it has remained parched. Now, Texans are more likely to be asking for divine intervention to provide a little sunshine. Reservoirs that had reached historically low levels are brimming, or at least rising fast. The water level at Lake Travis near Austin rose nearly 24 feet in the last week. It was just 34.2 percent full a year ago; today it is 65.5 percent full. Across the state, reservoirs have collected about eight million acre feet of water, rising to 82 percent full from 73 percent full in a month, according to the Texas Water Development Board.
Texans are no strangers to extreme weather, said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate change researcher at Texas Tech University and an author of the 2014 United States National Climate Assessment. "It's famous for floods and drought, hurricanes and tornadoes, dust storms and ice storms," she said. "Climate change is not causing these events - they've always happened naturally. But climate change is exacerbating these events."
TAMPA - Climate change may be triggering an evolution in hurricanes, with some researchers predicting the violent storms could move farther north, out of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where they have threatened coastlines for centuries. Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean began Monday, and forecasters are predicting a relatively quiet season. They say three hurricanes are expected over the next six months, and only one will turn into a major hurricane. ...
There is a consensus among atmospheric researchers studying the connection between global warming and hurricanes that centuries- old patterns may be shifting, said Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There are a few things we agree on," he said, "and a few things we don't know much about."
He said researchers generally agree that the frequency of high-intensity storms, Category 3, 4 and 5, will increase as the planet warms. "By how much? There's a lot of uncertainty," he said. The second generally accepted theory is that with rising sea levels, storm surge could become more of a threat than wind. "The sea level is going up and will continue to go up," he said. Rain also is expected to increase during hurricanes, he said. "It's in widespread agreement that as you warm the climate, hurricanes will rain a lot more."