Some forecasters are predicting the most active hurricane season since 2012, when Hurricane Sandy tore up the shoreline with a wind-driven storm surge.
Sandy, when it struck here on Oct. 29 that year, had already been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it arrived near high tide, making its impact much worse.
The National Weather Service has declared this Hurricane Preparedness Week, and advises property owners and residents, especially along the shore, to stock up on non-perishable food, bottled water and batteries, and to develop an evacuation plan.
"Tropical cyclones are among nature's most powerful and destructive phenomena,'' reads the message on the landing page of the NWS Hurricane site. "Even areas well away from the coastline can be threatened by dangerous flooding, destructive winds and tornadoes from these storms.''
The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be the most active in four years, reports The Weather Channel, with 14 named storms including 8 hurricanes. Three of those hurricanes are likely to be at least a Category 3, a "major'' storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
There is no direct correlation between the number of storms and hurricanes and the number that make landfall in the U.S., Weather Channel forecasters say, but any of one them can be devastating so it's important to be prepared.
And this has already proven to be an unusual year for storms. Hurricane Alex was one of those rarely-seen January hurricanes, spawned by the warm El Nino winds, a full six months ahead of the June 1 official start of hurricane season.
While many students at F&ES are interested in environmental policy, James Albis '16 M.E.M. has brought a unique perspective to the classroom - that of an elected politician.
When Albis (D-East Haven) first decided to run for the Connecticut state legislature at age 26, he was focused on income inequality and economic justice, not environmental policy. But Hurricane Irene slammed the state during his first year in office, destroying dozens of homes and galvanizing his environmental awareness.
"East Haven lost 40 homes in that storm," Albis says. "That was an experience that showed me we really have no great level of preparedness for those types of storms and many of the impacts of climate change.
"When I talk to people about why I got interested in environmental issues, I usually say it was not because it was something I sought after. It came to me through the experiences of going through Hurricane Irene, going through Superstorm Sandy, learning about why these were happening and what we can do to mitigate their effects," he says.
In the aftermath of Irene, Albis was appointed to lead a special bi-partisan task force on shoreline preservation. That task force, which met over the course of a year, heard from a range of experts such as climate scientists, policy advocates, engineers, attorneys, and local citizens. Their work culminated in nearly 50 recommendations that led to the formation of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation(CIRCA), a multidisciplinary research center tasked with assisting municipalities in adapting to sea level rise, storm surge, and extreme weather.
Along with state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. '91 M.E.Sc. (D-Bradford), Albis, a three-term representative, currently serves as co-chair of the Environment Committee.
Albis may be relatively new to the environmental field, but politics are in his blood. As a young boy, he worked on his father's campaigns for Judge of Probate (an elected position in Connecticut), making signs and stuffing envelopes and later acting as campaign manager. His mother served on the local board of education. And as soon as he turned 18, Albis joined the Democratic town committee. When his predecessor, Mike Lawlor - who had served East Haven for over two decades - was picked as Governor Dannel Malloy's undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning in 2011, Albis made his move. He was in his mid-20s and just a few years out of New York University, running in his first contest against a 50-year-old attorney.
"I had never run a campaign to the degree you have to for a state race. And it's a different kind of campaign," Albis says. "But I tried to make things very local in what I talked about because at the end of the day, when you go to somebody's door, they don't want to talk about what's going on in Hartford, they want to talk about what's going on in East Haven."
A self-described policy wonk more interested in policy than politics, Albis felt overwhelmed that first session. Often he had two or three committee meetings to attend simultaneously - all open to the public - including the powerful judiciary committee that his predecessor had chaired for 16 years. "Everyone who saw me said, 'Oh, you're the new Mike Lawlor,'" Albis recalls. "I had big shoes to fill and I wondered, 'How do I live up to this? How do I establish myself?'"
Then came Irene.
In the days after the hurricane struck the Connecticut shoreline in August 2011, inflicting massive damage in East Haven, Albis collected ice to keep food cold for those who'd lost power and used social media to help update local citizens about relief efforts.
"I feel like many politicians use something like that just to put themselves into the public eye. That's not me. I was just trying to do what I could as a member of the community, not necessarily as a state representative," he says.
That experience, along with chairing the task force, not only motivated Albis to run for a second term, but also inspired him to apply to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where he's spent the past two years studying physical science, urban planning, and climate resilience, all while continuing to serve in the statehouse. As soon as Albis came back from summer orientation in his first year at Yale, he went full into the campaign. He handed his campaign manager his personal, legislative, and school calendars and told him, "Just tell me when I need to be on the doors and I'll tell you when I need to be doing homework.'"
Albis admits that it's been difficult to balance graduate school and public service. "I didn't find out that I was going to be appointed chair until after my first semester at F&ES. And that's a lot of work in itself," Albis says. "You have to know more than everybody else does - that's your job. I was able to schedule my classes so I could make all these meetings in Hartford. But it was not easy and I've told people I would not recommend it."
Still, public service has given Albis a practical understanding of how difficult it is to enact environmental policy. And he finds - in many cases, not just at F&ES - that whenever people talk about environmental policy, politics are lacking. "Politics are everywhere," Albis says, "and something you need to think about if you're interested in policy."
"Policy and research-based decision making is not always how things work," Albis continues. "You might have the right science, the right research to back up what you're saying, but that still doesn't mean that people you're trying to work with see it the same way. And it's been a really difficult thing for me to deal with - not only in environmental issues, but in every issue I've dealt with at the capital. I think it is particularly challenging when you talk about environmental issues because people often see taking certain actions on environmental issues as being very costly; they see them as being burdens in one way or another. And it often clashes with one's ideology. At the end of the day, you're not going to get success unless you can communicate to somebody, 'This is the right thing to do' because it speaks to you. And that is something that is very difficult to do, and I certainly haven't mastered it."
Albis spent years volunteering for local organizations and immersing himself in local politics. He encourages other students who are interested politics to do the same. He tends to favor those groups that are more collaborative over those who stake out their claim on an issue.
"People think about politics in different ways. You might be the kind of official who just uses it as a kind of springboard to spout whatever ideological thing you want to, but I use it as a way to coalesce and build coalitions and try to bring people together," he says.
Albis also encourages students to make the most of their time at F&ES, something he admits that was difficult to do while serving as a state legislator.
"That's something I guess I really regret. I just couldn't make the most of it because of my other commitments," he says. "But there are so many amazing people here and so many amazing things and it's such an incredible experience. And if you have an opportunity to apply it to something while you're here, that's great. But just make sure you're getting the most out of it in whatever way you want to."
Frequent flooding on Meadow Street and Hammer Field could be reduced by installing a flood gate and a pumping system. That's one of numerous community-wide options discussed in Branford's proposed Coastal Resilience Plan. The plan outlines changes in neighborhoods from Short Beach to Stony Creek and includes upgrades in drainage systems in specific areas.
The draft of the comprehensive plan was presented at an informational meeting Tuesday by town engineer Janice Plaziak; and engineer David Murphy of Milone & MacBroom Inc. of Cheshire. The federally-funded plan has been in the works for several months, and previous public sessions were held in November and February.
The plan seeks ways to help Branford's neighborhoods become less vulnerable to the effects of high tides and coastal storms. "Each neighborhood has its own set of challenges," Plaziak said.
"We want to reduce recovery time and become more resilient," Murphy said.
The plan could be adopted as a stand-alone plan; or administered by a commission; or it could be added to either the Hazard Mitigation Plan or the Plan of Conservation and Development.
The town of Branford is comprised of 22 square miles and has 20 miles of coastline, including Long Island Sound and the Branford River. The town has one of the longest coastlines in the state.
The draft plan, which is 50 pages plus appendices, is posted on the Engineering Department's web site, and a hard copy is available at Town Hall. About 20 people attended Tuesday's session and asked questions or offered comments.
It's not too late to comment on the draft plan before it is finalized in early June.
"Please get your comments to me," Plaziak said, adding that people may contact her through e-mail at email@example.com or by calling the Engineering Department at Town Hall.
"We need to keep these ideas coming from the people," Plaziak said Tuesday. She said planning is an ongoing process, and that there will be updates to this plan, and to the Hazard Mitigation Plan that was completed in May 2014. These types of plans are vital when the town applies for state or federal funding for projects.
In addition, the Planning and Zoning Commission will soon begin updating the Plan of Conservation and Development, which is revised every 10 years.
"There are always opportunities for folks to stay involved," Plaziak said.
The Coastal Resilience Plan includes vulnerability and risk assessments, coastal adaptation strategies, conceptual plans, and a discussion of implementation and potential funding sources.
The plan looks into the future, with sea level rise scenarios for the 2020's, 2050's, and 2080's; and for category 2 storms. See photo above.
Murphy explained that resiliency includes ways to prepare, adapt, withstand and recover from flooding and erosion caused by high tides, storm surges, rising seas, and coastal storms.
The plan includes options for hard protection, like seawalls and dikes; soft protection such as beach nourishment and dune restorations; infrastructure options such as drainage improvements, road elevation, tide gates, and flood- proofing sewer pumping stations; and home protection through elevation. It also includes options for regulatory tools such as zoning modifications, and height-limit flexibility; and coastal realignment such as property acquisition or abandoning roads.
The chart of neighborhoods (top photo) shows options that might help specific neighborhoods. For example, Beckett Avenue in Short Beach would benefit from beach nourishment, drainage upgrades, and elevating buildings and Stony Creek would develop an evacuation plan.
"There are different ways the town can adapt over time," said Murphy, who outlined the plan in a power point presentation, which is also on the Engineering Department's web site.
There is also lists of the 28 town and state roads that are the most vulnerable. The top five on the town list are Linden Avenue, Indian Neck Avenue, Waverly Park Road, Pine Orchard Road, and Clark Avenue. The top five on the state list are Route 146 at Jarvis Creek; Route 142 at Short Beach; Route 146 at Sybil Creek; Route 146 at Branford River; and Route 146 at Limewood Beach.
Meadow Street and Hammer Field
The plan also takes a look at some specific areas and compares options. One of those areas is the Meadow Street - Hammer Field neighborhood which is prone to flooding from heavy rainstorms, from the Branford River, and storm surges from Long Island Sound.
"Part of the problem is the railroad underpass," Murphy said, as he discussed the need for a storm gate to help protect the lower end of Meadow Street and Hammer Field.
The photo of the Meadow Street neighborhood above compares the extent of daily high tide flooding in the 2080's with an open gate and with a closed gate.
"Daily high-tide flooding could happen in the 2080's-twice a day," Murphy said.
This area is particularly important because of the number of homes and businesses, the electrical substation and a sewer pump station. It is also the location of the Hammer Field sports area, and the Community House, which is scheduled for renovation to include the senior center. The proposed Atlantic Wharf upscale apartments and retail shops are slated to be built on the upper end of Meadow Street.
Murphy said a flood gate would help curb the flooding, but there is also a need to upgrade the storm drainage infrastructure, and to install a stormwater pumping station. The draft plan lists an estimated construction cost of $813,000 for the gate and other upgrades. That cost would not include the possibility of raising the railroad tracks in that area.
Once the plan is finalized, the next steps are to determine how to implement it and how to seek funding. Murphy said the town has numerous options, which are all listed in the plan.
"Ultimately the goal is to be more resilient," Murphy said.
HARTFORD - U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, is calling on Congress to dramatically increase funding to reduce nitrogen pollution in Long Island Sound and double efforts to battle rising acidic levels that threaten oyster fishing in coastal cities such as Norwalk and Milford.
Murphy's plan calls for spending $860 million a year on a variety of Sound initiatives - a 15 percent increase over current levels - in an effort to clean up the waterway, preserve hundreds of maritime jobs and prepare the coastline for rising sea levels caused by climate change.
"These are big numbers and I'm challenging my colleagues to step up and dramatically increase funding," said Murphy, a minority member of the Senate's Appropriations Committee.
"The Sound does not clean itself, and we need to make a commitment to protect it," Murphy said. "We need to begin to allocate the necessary dollars to protect it. I will be fighting for this plan."
The Murphy plan calls for increasing funding for the Milford National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab, which performs cutting edge aquaculture research, to $20 million a year, a $6 million rise.
The plan also calls for spending $165 million annually to reduce nitrogen entering the Sound - which causes low oxygen conditions that can kill marine life and drive algae growth - and $21 million a year on ocean acidification research grants, an increase of $10 million over the current level.
Asked about the chances of funding such an ambitious program given the current Republican majority, Murphy said Senate Republicans are more receptive to funding Long Island Sound projects than other environmental causes, such as climate change.
"I have an obligation to tell my colleagues what we need," Murphy said.
Curt Johnson, executive director of Save the Sound, said research into rising acidic levels is one of the most important components of Murphy's spending plan.
"We are at the brink when shellfish can no longer reproduce," Johnson said. "We are right on the brink of potential collapse."
The acidic level of the world's oceans is tied to an increasingly high absorption of carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels. Recent studies show the Atlantic Ocean's absorption of carbon dioxide doubled over the last 10 years, which in turn significantly sped up a chemical change know as acidification, a condition created as dissolved oxygen becomes an acid and lowers the pH of water.
As acidic levels rise, seas become more hostile to marine life and shellfish struggle to create shells.
Connecticut's shellfish industry supports about 300 jobs and generates $30 million statewide per year. Fishermen work on 70,000 acres of oyster and clam beds and about 450,000 bushels of clams and 200,000 bushels of oysters are harvested annually.
Ben Goetsch, a spokesman for Milford-based Briarpatch Enterprises clam and oyster fishing operation, said Murphy is right to seek research into mitigating rising acidic levels in the Sound.
"We are facing challenges," Goetsch. "Our waters are acidifying and we need funding to get ahead of this problem."
Goetsch said increasingly acidic water is not yet impacting shellfish production but will eventually if a solution is not found.
"The next 100 years looks kind of grim," Goetsch said. "We are not worried about next year. It's a long term problem for the health of the industry. We want research to see if there are adaptations and remediation that we can do. The Milford lab is a huge driver for that research."
Jimmy Bloom, an owner of Norm Bloom & Son's oyster fishing operation in Norwalk, said he supports any effort to improve water quality.
"I think water quality is important to everyone, from wildlife to the fisheries," Bloom said. "If it's to improve quality, I'm all for it."
Nitrogen is an equal problem for both recreational and commercial uses of the Sound, Johnson noted.
"The patient is out of critical care," Johnson said, referring to the billions of dollars already spent on successful nitrogen reduction efforts, including improving wastewater treatment plants.
"But there are major problems in bays and harbors," Johnson said. "Even in Stonington, they found three-foot thick algae in one area. We have major problems in certain harbors and bays to deal with."
- $860 million a year in funding for Long Island Sound restoration, a roughly 15 percent increase over current levels.
- Milford's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab: 20 million, up from $6 million
- $121 million to restore fish habitats, manage catch share program and combat illegal fishing
- $164 million for nitrogen reduction
- $68 million for general NOAA research
- $111 million for the Coastal Zone Management Grants, up from $90.6 million
- $21.7 million for the Integrated Ocean Acidification research grants, up from $10 million
- $80 million for National Sea Grant Colleges System to supports the Connecticut
- $31 million for various conservation and restoration programs