Stonington - Town Attorney Thomas Londregan has informed the Board of Selectmen that the town has no legal obligation to reimburse property owners who lost their annual 5 percent flood insurance premium discount and to do so would be in violation of the town's authority.
At a Board of Selectmen meeting last month, some Mystic residents demanded that the town reimburse them for the loss or possibly face a class action lawsuit.
One of them, Thomas Norris, has sent a letter to the selectmen containing a proposed resolution that would reimburse property owners for the loss of the discount, for which the town has accepted responsibility.
"While it may be that the town is not 'legally' responsible for the loss, the town has an ethical and moral obligation to do what is right and that is to reimburse the blameless policy holders for their financial loss," he wrote.
Norris' resolution would require the town to reimburse property owners for their loss now and in the future if the town cannot get the discount reinstated by Nov. 1.
Property owners are expected to raise the issue with selectmen when the board meets Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the high school.
In his letter, Londregan noted that participation in the flood discount program is voluntary by municipalities and the town could have discontinued its participation any time if it decided the time and cost of the program had become a burden.
He pointed out that state statutes and case law generally hold that municipalities are not liable for discretionary actions.
"Since the Community Rating System is a voluntary incentive program, I can find no duty for the Town to participate," he wrote. "Since participation is not mandatory but discretionary, I find no liability for the town for not remaining in the program." ...
NEW LONDON - Former Admiral Thad Allen's legacy as the face of the Coast Guard during the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort is lending strength to the Coast Guard Academy's renewed focus on creating leaders.
Allen, 66, who also had major roles in the response to the 9/11 terrorist attack and the Deep Horizon oil spill off the Gulf Coast, has been tapped to give a major address each year on the character of leadership to the Corps of Cadets.
In his new role, Allen gave his first speech last week, just in time to usher in the 10th anniversary of the defining episode of the modern Coast Guard: the rescue of more than 33,000 people from flood-ravaged New Orleans.
A decade after the storm, Allen said, the Katrina effort continues to influence training and helped the Coast Guard mature as a service.
He had arrived in New Orleans to find a rescue effort in disarray. Appointed by President George W. Bush as the lead federal official one week into the recovery effort, he simply started at the beginning to transform what had been a chaotic, haphazard effort epitomized by the horrendous conditions at the Superdome, where refugees from the deadly storm were gathered.
"The first week of the Katrina relief effort was a failure of the imagination," Allen said in an interview. "My job was to go to New Orleans, be accountable to the American public, cut the red tape, and improve the velocity of the response.
"They had lost the continuity of government," Allen continued. "There was no way to coordinate police, fire, and medical response. There wasn't a central organizing structure.
"On my arrival, we re-established those elements. We organized the city into sectors so the local government could carry out its legal responsibilities."
And the Coast Guard could concentrate on what it does best, deploying 62 aircraft, 42 cutters, 131 small boats, more than 5,000 Coast Guard personnel, and rescuing an estimated 33,735 people, including 138 displaced by Hurricane Rita later that season.
Katrina killed 1,833 people and caused $75 billion in damage in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast, yet many had predicted the levees were vulnerable and a disaster of that magnitude was inevitable. ...
Fishermen in the Gulf of Maine have been harvesting lobsters at record highs. That's in contrast to fishermen in Southern New England, where there has been a sharp decline in the lobster population since the late 1990s.
A report (pdf) by Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission attributes that to climate change.
Mark Gibson, deputy chief of the marine fisheries division at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Division of Fish & Wildlife, said warming waters in Southern New England are prompting lobsters to crawl north. But there's more than that happening.
"There are also increased mortality rates and reduced growth rates of those animals that are remaining in the Southern New England area," said Gibson. "So not only are they dying faster, but they are growing slower, which has a feedback loop. The smaller you are, the more vulnerable you are to predators. It's a double whammy-not only [are they] dying faster but growing slower and predisposing yourself to other risks."
Risks like shell disease, said Gibson.
"Water temperatures can influence lobsters' vulnerability to shell disease and also they cite evidence that shell disease itself increases the mortality rate of lobsters and reduces their growth rate," said Gibson.
The number of days when water temperatures in Southern New England are above 68 degrees is increasing, threatening lobsters. But the number of days in the ideal cold range in the Gulf of Maine is increasing.
Regulators anticipate climate change will continue to affect lobster health and its distribution in the region in the future.
Building a wall to curb flooding at Fairfield Beach during severe storms failed to win waves of support at Thursday's forum hosted by the town's Flood and Erosion Control Board.
The wall was proposed at an elevation of 12 feet and would run from the Jacky Durrell Pavilion to the town's wastewater treatment plant outfall, or between 345 and 1094 Fairfield Beach Road. By comparison, Fairfield Beach Road now is mostly at an elevation of six feet and Penfield Beach at an elevation of about 10 feet, according to Albert F. Grauer, the board chairman.
In one scenario, the wall would run along the beach in front of homes closest to the shoreline. In the other scenario, it would run behind those homes. Grauer said town officials estimate that a wall between the Jacky Durrell Pavilion and wastewater treatment plant outfall would cost approximately $5 million.
"I would strongly object to it," said Jane Purcell, who owns a home in the 900 block of Fairfield Beach Road. Purcell said the wall likely would cause property values in the area to decline and that it wouldn't be very effective because her property is around elevation 12 and water surged above it during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Paige Herman, president of the Fairfield Beach Residents Association and a resident of Fairfield Beach Road for 68 years, suggested instead that homeowners build sand dunes in front of their properties and predicted "a lot of opposition" to construction of a wall.
Herman said she had a sand dune in front of her home before Sandy struck and credited it with absorbing the storm's first tidal blow. "I think a sand dune that is properly vegetated is a strong thing," she said. "People say it's a Band-Aid, but it's a Band-Aid I was glad to have for Superstorm Sandy."...
Washington - Earth just keeps getting hotter. July was the planet's warmest month on record, smashing old marks, U.S. weather officials said.
And it's almost a dead certain lock that this year will beat last year as the warmest year on record, they said.
July's average temperature was 61.86 degrees Fahrenheit, beating the previous global mark set in 1998 and 2010 by about one-seventh of a degree, according to figures released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That's a large margin for weather records, with previous monthly heat records broken by a 20th of a degree or less.
"It just reaffirms what we already know: that the Earth is warming," NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch said. "The warming is accelerating and we're really seeing it this year."
NOAA records go back to 1880. Separate calculations by NASA and the Japanese weather agency also found July 2015 to be a record.
The first seven months of 2015 were the hottest January-to-July span on record, according to NOAA. The seven-month average temperature of 58.43 degrees is 1.53 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average and a sixth of a degree warmer than the old record set in 2010. ...
WINSTED - The Flood of 1955, which occurred 60 years ago this week, radically re-shaped downtown Winsted, as the south side of Main Street was wiped away by the force of the waters.
About 170 of 200 businesses built along the Mad and Still rivers were destroyed. The town suffered more than $30 million worth of damage. The street itself was torn apart, gouged to a depth of 10 feet.
"The buildings that were on the riverside, almost all of them hung partly or completely over the river," said Larry Marolda, a life-long town resident who was 9 at the time of the flood.
The economy of Winsted was also altered dramatically that day.
Both Marolda and Town Historian Milly Hudak, who also lived through the flood, remember a very different downtown before the cataclysmic event.
"The downtown was extremely busy every day. On the weekends, Friday night - when the stores used to be open on Friday night - I mean, everyone in town was down there doing their shopping because you buy just about anything you needed for yourself and your family right on Main Street, Winsted," said Hudak. "You know, shoes and clothing and groceries and hardware, everything was available."
Said Marolda: "People just proceeded slowly up and down, and of course there were sewers on either side. And it was just a much different town. A guy about 10 years older than me listed something like 35 or 40 little corner stores, because back in the day in a mill town like Winsted, most people didn't drive."
In the decades following the flood, the town has searched to find a way to replace this concentration of stores in the downtown area.
"It had a tremendous impact on the economy. It wiped out every business on the river side of Main Street, in addition to a great deal of destruction on the buildings on the other side of Main Street," said Hudak. "A great deal of it did not come back, as you know by riding on Main Street today. Some of the businesses did try to come back, but the loss of business after the flood was never 100 percent restored."
The future of commerce in Winsted - its' prospective economic niche - is uncertain.
Marolda hopes that the center of town can become a commercial destination for people visiting the area, akin to Great Barrington, Massachusetts. ...
PORTLAND, Maine - The lobster population has crashed to the lowest levels on record in southern New England while climbing to heights never before seen in the cold waters off Maine and other northern reaches - a geographic shift that scientists attribute in large part to the warming of the ocean.
The trend is driving lobstermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island out of business, ending a centuries-old way of life.
Restaurant diners, supermarket shoppers and summer vacationers aren't seeing much difference in price or availability, since the overall supply of lobsters is pretty much steady.
But because of the importance of lobsters to New England's economy, history and identity, the northward shift stands as a particularly sad example of how climate change may be altering the natural range of many animals and plants.
"It's a shame," said Jason McNamee, chief of marine resource management for Rhode Island's Division of Fish and Wildlife. "It's such a traditional, historical fishery."
In 2013, the number of adult lobsters in New England south of Cape Cod slid to about 10 million, just one-fifth the total in the late 1990s, according to a report issued this month by regulators. The lobster catch in the region sank to about 3.3 million pounds in 2013, from a peak of about 22 million in 1997.
The declines are "largely in response to adverse environmental conditions, including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years," along with continued fishing, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said in a summary of the report.
HARTFORD - Experts say that more than half of Connecticut's 88 sewage plants may be at "high risk" for flooding because of the increasing likelihood of major climate-change-related storms and rising sea levels.
The danger is that stormwater could inundate the plants, damage electrical systems and other vital controls and result in raw or partially treated sewage being released into streams, rivers and Long Island Sound.
That's exactly what happened in 2012 during Storm Sandy, when about 24.3 million gallons of sewage overflowed from Connecticut wastewater systems, according to some estimates.
Concerned state lawmakers approved $20 million this year for projects designed to protect sewage plants and other key infrastructure like roads and bridges. The money will also be used to create or preserve wetlands and dunes along the shoreline, which are important features guarding against storm surges. That's in addition to the $378 million approved by the legislature this year in low-interest loans and grants to municipalities to improve sewage treatment systems.
Most climate scientists expect extreme storms like Sandy, a "superstorm" that caused an estimated $50 billion in damage to the East Coast, to become more common as average temperatures increase and sea levels rise.
Connecticut officials are taking those warnings seriously.
"I think we have to," said William Robinson, acting director of the Bridgeport Water Pollution Control Authority. "Sandy proved the vulnerability [of sewer plants] all over the East Coast."
As a result of Sandy's storm surges, Bridgeport's two treatment facilities released more than 19.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound, according to a 2013 report by the environmental group Climate Central. Sandy triggered overflows from at least 17 different wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems along the state's shoreline, the Climate Central report found.
Connecticut got off easy. Sandy's greatest impact on sewage overflows was in New Jersey and New York. The Climate Central report estimated that 11 billion gallons of sewage was released by the storm, enough to bury all of Central Park in sludge 41 feet high.
"We sort of dodged a bullet with Sandy," said Leah Schmalz, program director for the nonprofit Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its Save the Sound program. She said the massive storm caused significant damage in Connecticut, but was also a clear danger signal about how much worse it could be if the state doesn't take action.
In recent decades, Connecticut has spent about $2.5 billion in state and federal money on building and improving wastewater treatment systems, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Much of the $20 million in new state bond money is expected to go toward protecting many of the improved sewage facilities from storm flooding. Deciding where and how that money should be used won't be easy. State officials say they are still deciding criteria for distribution of the funds and warn that the money isn't likely to start flowing for such projects until 2016.
Many sewer plants are gravity-fed operations that, by necessity, are in low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding. Protecting plants can involve building berms, providing alternative electrical sources and changing the location of key control units and pumping stations.
Denise Ruzicka, director of DEEP's planning and standards division, warns that the storm-related problems facing Connecticut's sewage plants are very "case specific." Shoreline facilities need to worry about storm surges off Long Island Sound. Some inland plants along the Connecticut River could be vulnerable to river floods, while others, like the one in Hartford, are protected by dikes and berms.
Some communities, including Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Norwich, have "combined sewer overflows" where raw sewage and rainwater flow into the same system. Waste treatment plants can normally handle the combined flow, but can be overwhelmed by massive storms like Sandy, and that's when untreated or partially treated sewage can be released into waterways.
Schmalz said DEEP officials have "done a phenomenal job to get those sewage treatment plants upgraded." But she added that more work needs to be done to make sure that storm overflows don't create massive problems. "One billion gallons of raw sewage still makes its way to Long Island Sound every year from those combined sewage overflow systems," Schmalz said.
A "seat-of-the-pants" evaluation done last year by DEEP experts listed 13 of the 14 sewage treatment plants directly on Long Island Sound as "high risk" for flooding. Of the 15 wastewater treatment facilities along the Connecticut River, nine were considered highly vulnerable to storm-flood scenarios. Ruzicka said one of the tasks the department needs to complete is a detailed "vulnerability assessment" for the most at-risk sewage plants.
Work to protect vulnerable wastewater treatment facilities using previously approved state and federal funding is already underway in places like Fairfield.
Fairfield's sewage plant is about half a mile from Long Island Sound, and the storm surge from Sandy flooded some of the facility's tanks, said Ed Boman, the town's assistant director of public works.
Boman estimated that "a couple million gallons" of partially treated sewage was released during the storm. The experience pushed Fairfield officials to apply for state and federal funding to better protect the plant, and they plan to spend about $4.8 million on the project.
About $2.3 million will be used to build a 1,500-foot-long berm, at least 6 feet high, to protect against storm surges, Boman said. Another $2.5 million will go toward creating a microgrid with solar panels and natural gas- and diesel-powered generators so the plant can operate on self-generated electricity for at least 60 days.
Robinson said Bridgeport will need several million dollars in grants to increase protection for its two sewage plants. When those plants were built, they were above the known flood plain, according to Robinson, but rising sea levels have forced new estimates on how high storm surges can reach.
"The Federal Emergency Management Administration has changed the elevation on their flood maps," Robinson explained, which means those Bridgeport plants are now seen as in greater danger from storms like Sandy.
One of the Hartford-area treatment plants included in the "high risk" category on DEEP's preliminary flood warning list is in South Windsor. The facility on Vibert Road stands on the very edge of the Connecticut River flood plain.
Fred Shaw, the town's water pollution control superintendent, said South Windsor began making flood-protection improvements to the plant back in the 1980s after Hurricane Gloria. That storm surrounded the sewer plant with flood waters. "We were an island," Shaw recalled. Using grant money, South Windsor built a series of berms around the plant, and changed storm drains to prevent water from backing up into the facility's buildings. Shaw said a recent engineering evaluation determined that the plant remains "adequately protected, even if we are right at the edge of the flood plain."
There is also state funding now being made available for "green infrastructure" projects intended to absorb stormwater and heavy rain to keep them from inundating sewer plants and drainage systems.
Such projects include everything from urban gardens on roofs and open areas to soak up rainwater, "bio-swales" and berms along streets and parks to contain or divert flooding, Schmalz said.
Projects to expand or create wetlands and dune areas that act as "natural water absorbers and buffers" will also be under consideration for funding, said Jesse Stratton, DEEP's director of policy.
In a world where climate change is becoming a harsh reality, officials are looking for any way to adapt and minimize the damage.
Robinson puts it this way: "We have to protect ourselves the best we can."
PLAINVILLE - The town has received a new $1.3 million federal grant that will allow it to purchase and demolish nine homes in a neighborhood by the Pequabuck River that's prone to flooding.
The grant was announced Wednesday.
The nine homes are on Robert Street Extension and Norton Place Extension. The neighborhoods are in a floodplain and frequently flood during heavy rain. Thirteen homes have already been demolished and one more is likely to come down soon. Previous federal and state grants paid for the demolition.
Once the nine homes are gone, the neighborhood will only have two homes left standing, with a total of 23 demolished, Town Manager Robert Lee said Wednesday.
"Those two homeowners have declined to participate," he said. "It's a voluntary program."
The $1.3 million grant comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. U.S. Rep Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy issued a joined statement about the award. ...