Published November 11. 2012 4:00AM
I fully agreed with the Nov. 1 editorial "Reform federal flood insurance program" concerning the wasteful subsidized restoration of buildings ravaged by severe storms along the coastline. But, the editorial only painted half a portrait of the root programmatic causes contributing to the devastating consequences of such calamities. In Section 22a-109(b)(4) of the General Statutes, the Connecticut Coastal Management Act permits zoning regulations to exempt construction of single-family residential, accessory and other incidental structures. Both programs - the flood insurance and CAM policy - do not bode well for our collective wisdom quotient. Nature always rules.
Winston Churchill said it best, "Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when acting would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong - these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history."
Sandy caused $20 billion in damages and $50 billion in economic losses according to media estimates. We can't control nature, but we persist in believing that we can live or build directly in harm's way. We, also, foolishly believe that: engineers can protect us; our emergency response systems will work; and endless quantities of government money will be there to pay for the cleanups and restorations. We delude ourselves in such unrealistic beliefs reinforcing our desires for ocean access without serious contemplation of the impacts and consequences. Superstorm Sandy caused terrible devastation and loss of life and property. But, it is also a teachable moment to educate the public about future storm risks.
New London and probably most of Connecticut's coastal towns exempt private homes from coastal site plan review. However, a goal of the Coastal Management Act is to "[M]minimize damage to and destruction of life and property and reduce the necessity of public expenditure to protect future development from such hazards" in the planning process. Exempting private residences from site plan review and subsidizing restoration of damaged homes conflicts with this wise and lofty goal.
As we move from triage into recovery, the primary questions are how we will recover and how we will prevent or minimize future tragedies.
We have to take a new direction and limit rebuilding in shoreline areas that are not high enough to withstand future hurricanes. How many times is the government going to allow a small group of beach owners to rebuild their cottages after these dwellings have been ripped apart by floods and high winds?
It is time for a new direction by using destroyed areas to create more open space allowing all taxpayers the opportunity to enjoy Connecticut's beaches.
The occurrence of three 100-year storms in a 15-month period is a disturbing trend. What we know is that the damage caused by these major storms is extreme, whether from snow, rain, winds, or storm surges.
Sea level is anticipated to rise 1.5 feet by mid-century and 3-5 feet above current levels by century's end. With the destructive surges experienced during Sandy, the thought of higher sea levels and higher surges is life-threatening unless we take steps to prepare for future storms. We cannot ignore these risks.
We are living with a changing landscape that requires adaptive planning to minimize future loss of life, property and environmental quality for the decades and centuries to come. Instead of building right on the beach or erecting sea walls, strategic planning would provide for living shorelines that dampen storm surge.
Finally, the state should levy a small tax on all properties within the coastal boundary to provide funds for the Long Island Sound Fund. The taxes would be solely used for the purchase of seaside properties.
Robert Fromer, a former New London resident, is an environmental consultant living in Windsor.