“The Next High Tide Line Will Be In My Kitchen”
by Diana Stricker | Jul 11, 2012 3:25 pm
Posted to: Environment
The most passionate voices at the first public hearing of the Shoreline Preservation Task Force told tales of rising sea levels, extreme storm events and a bureaucratic aftermath that has left them dazed.
“We’re still rebuilding,” said Frazier Bronson, whose home in the Short Beach section of Branford was hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene more than ten months ago. The surging water and winds destroyed the top half of his sea wall, the deck and much of the first floor of his home.
Bronson, like many others at the hearing, said his efforts to rebuild have been thwarted by bureaucratic red tape, especially the lengthy permitting process of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. (DEEP).
The recently formed Shoreline Preservation Task Force is studying the effects of rising seas, climate changes and extreme storm events. The 21-member panel includes legislators and environmentalists. The bipartisan membership is attempting to assess the problems, gather accurate data, and determine what steps local and state officials can take. It will report their findings in the next legislative session.
“All we’re trying to do is rebuild what we had before ...we’re not trying to make anything bigger. It’s very simple. However, the (DEEP) process is very complicated,” Bronson (pictured) told the state panel during a three-hour hearing Monday night at the Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford.
Bronson said the DEEP permitting process became mired in a decades-old neighborhood dispute regarding a fence that was built before he and his wife bought the property.
“There should be a simple and quick process that allows simple replacement of existing structures,” Bronson said. “There should be an appeal and adjudication process where the rights of citizens can be heard. The goal of DEEP and the Long Island Sound Program should be to protecting Long Island Sound, not getting involved in property disputes.”
An official from DEEP attended the session, listening to the testimony and taking notes. Afterwards he spoke with several homeowners, including Bronson. He did not announce his presence.
Bronson said he also encountered problems with FEMA and his insurance carrier. “Flood insurance certainly doesn’t cover the sea wall, but in our case, the sea wall was an integral part of the house,” he said.
He did have words of praise for the response from Branford town officials who made frequent visits to the neighborhood and aided in recovery efforts. He lives near Beckett Avenue, (pictured) which suffered severe flooding.
Branford First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos was the first speaker Monday night. “I can attest to the fact water is rising,” DaRos said, citing his years of experience as a former marine contractor. He said the rising seas are having an adverse affect on infrastructure such as roads, sewers and drainage systems. “You don’t have to live on the water to be affected by this.”
DaRos said there used to be temporary signs cautioning about roads being flooded. “Those signs have become permanent,” he said.
Branford resident and environmentalist Bill Horne said there have been problems due to rising sea levels along the Branford shoreline since the 1990s.
“We need to know what issues you all are facing,” said Rep. James Albis, (D-East Haven), who is chairing the task force. About 90 people from several shoreline towns attended the session.
Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford), a member of the panel, said the task force is determined to come up with solid recommendations. “There’s a new normal we’re all facing on Long Island Sound,” Reed said in regard to the climate and sea changes.
Reed talked about the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene. She said it may be a harbinger of what is to come with rising sea levels: “In some ways, Irene opened our eyes to what is our new reality.”
Click here to read a story about a week of darkness following the communication crisis that ensued. .
One person who knows about rising waters is Anthony Sacco (pictured) of Morris Cove in New Haven. Sacco, who has lived on Townsend Avenue for 32 years, said his beach is disappearing and high tides are touching his home. “The water is hitting my foundation every day,” said the 76-year-old. “The next high tide line will be in my kitchen.”
He told the task force that he and his neighbors were inundated by Irene’s storm surge and they want help building sea walls to protect their homes. Click here to read a New Haven Independent story about their efforts.
“We took a beating and we can’t fix it and nobody cares,” Sacco said, claiming that DEEP and local officials have forgotten his neighborhood.
Carl Montagano of the Pawson Park section of Indian Neck in Branford said portions of his half-acre property were under three feet of water from Tropical Storm Irene. He lives across from Sunset Beach.
Montagano said towns should rethink their development regulations for shoreline properties.
“With today’s knowledge on rising tides and the potential for destruction near the shoreline increasing, towns and the state should be promoting the most conservative approach to new development and construction on the shoreline,” he said. “And that includes maintaining setbacks from the shoreline, not granting variances to build closer to the shoreline.” He was referring to a recently approved variance for a home close to the shoreline.
He also faulted the arbitrary methods that insurance companies have when it comes to insuring shoreline properties. “They shouldn’t be allowed to cherry pick the homes they do and don’t want to insure,” Montagano said.
State Rep. Pat Widlitz, (D-Branford and Guilford), who is also a member of the task force, said she has heard numerous complaints about insurance companies from many constituents whose home were damaged by the tropical storm. Widlitz said insurance issues are also being reviewed by the task force.
One resident who lives nears Bronson told the Eagle her insurance company denied her coverage because she did not have “wave” insurance.
Along The Shoreline
Mary Head, a former member of the Open Space Commission in West Haven, said Irene caused extensive damage in her community. “Our beaches are very much endangered,” she said. “We know we have to do something.”
Head said that towns need to be careful about new construction along the shoreline. “We have to have a total education of all our communities…there can be no more building along the coast as we did.”
James Portley, Guilford’s longtime town engineer, talked about the difficulty of dealing with DEEP permitting when it comes to elevating roadways that traverse wetland areas. He said environmental concerns must be balanced with efforts to improve public safety, such as revamping roads to eliminate flooding.
State Sen. Edward Meyer, (D-Guilford) said he has heard many complaints about DEEP. “We’re very concerned they’re over-regulating,” he said. “We’re going to try to get the department to be more flexible.”
Portley said fixing the roads and drainage problems are public safety issues. He said there has been an increase in the number of calls from residents who are trapped in their homes when roads are flooded.
“Town officials have one mission which is much more immediate than state agencies … there has to be more understanding of what burdens towns are under,” Portley said.
When a member of the task force asked what Hartford can do to help, Portley responded, “Just get out of my way. I know what we have to do. I don’t have to ask Hartford what to do. I’ve been doing this for 40 years.”
State Sen. Len Fasano (R-North Haven), a member of the task force, said municipalities and individual property owners have encountered problems with DEEP. “There has to be more conversation between the permitting process and towns and individuals,” Fasano said. “We’re all trying to reach the same goal.”
Sen. Fasano owns the Silver Sands Beach Club in East Haven, which was damaged by Storm Irene but has been restored.
Branford resident and attorney Karyl Lee Hall said she is familiar with the difficulty in balancing safety and emergency protection with civil rights and property rights. She also said that people have been complaining about DEEP (formerly DEP) for 25 years, and that the state must be willing to fund the agency at an adequate level. “There’s no money there and there’s no staff,” she told the task force.
Sid Gale, of Guilford (pictured), who has served on several town commissions, has become an outspoken authority on the effects of climate change.
“We need to take a strategic approach,” he said, stating that towns need to start planning for a very different future.
Sen. Meyer asked if Gale is proposing a “heavy dose of eminent domain” to stop construction on the shoreline.
“Nature will be the ultimate agent of eminent domain,” Gale said. “The public needs to understand the risks.”
Gale said some properties may be taken over by Long Island Sound as the seas rise. “We can’t save everything,” he said.
Gale said there needs to be uniformity across municipalities on a regional level when it comes to planning ways to deal with climate change.
“There is time to plan for this…but there is no time to waste” Gale cautioned. “We have to begin now and we have to be honest with the public.”
As the evening progressed, there were disagreements about the reliability of data on the rate of rising seas, and on how to counter the effects. While some thought that sea walls were the answer to protecting shoreline homes, others cautioned that hardening the beaches is more detrimental than beneficial.
Chairman Albis later told the Eagle that the issues are very complex and that there won’t be one set of solutions. “It was very valuable to hear from all the folks,” he said. “A lot of people were very emotional because it’s a very contentious issue.”
The task force will hold additional public hearings on July 23 at 6 p.m. at the Penfield Pavilion in Fairfield; and on Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. at the UConn Avery Point Campus, Academic Center in Groton.
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How come the public has to pay enormous costs in order to study, and eventually benefit, a tiny fraction of the super rich?
Development should be off limits in these areas, and existing housing should be phased out - it should become a parkland preserve, until it is eventually covered by the ocean in a few decades.
Never should have allowed any buildings on these problem lots.
Never should have subsidized insurance for these folks with tax money from folks who can not afford these waterfront acres.
Never should have allowed rebuilding after damage was done in earlier storms,
The whole idea of taunting nature by allowing such buildings,damages, insurance paying, re-building and repeating the cycle over and over is unfair and ridiculous
Whole area should have been demolished and become beach after the 1938 hurricane or maybe even before,
So say I.
wah wha more of the same.the 1%ers summer homes were ruined now they are mad that they cant rebuild mcmansions on the shoreline using state funds and cronyism to skirt the 2012 city codes.I’m sure enough pocket change or job offer to a family member to ol Joe in east haven will get the job done for you there.townie 4 life
Though I do feel sorry for people whose homes on the Sound have been damaged, the whole community (and that includes the local and state governments) needs to consider that construction should not be allowed in some locations. Or, if it is, those buildings will not be insurable.
How many of these houses would survive 1-2 meters of sea level rise over the next ~80 years? Is the state (and thus the taxpayers) willing to pay for damage to houses from sea level rise?