New London — On the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday announced a new state loan program to help shoreline home and business owners to invest in elevating and waterproofing structures against future storms.
"This is the beginning of a resiliency fund to make us stronger, by lifting ourselves out of harm's way," Malloy said, announcing the new program in a parking lot behind Sweetie's Bakery & Cafe on Bank Street, within view of the city's waterfront.
The fund initially will offer $2 million through the state Department of Housing, but Malloy said he has asked state legislative leaders to approve $25 million for the program in the 2014 session. On hand for the announcement were four members of the governor's Shoreline Preservation Task Force: state Reps. James Albis of East Haven, Elissa Wright of Groton, and Betsy Ritter of Waterford, and David Sutherland, government relations director of the state chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
The Shoreline Resiliency Fund would offer low-interest loans of up to $300,000 for raising and waterproofing primary and secondary homes and businesses in the two most vulnerable coastal flood zones identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program, designated as Zone VE and Coastal Zone AE on federal flood maps.
There would be no income limits on eligibility for the funds, filling a critical gap in assistance available to property owners whose incomes exceed limits for federal assistance programs, Malloy said.
"We're not going to get people to move away from our coast," he said. "This is an important investment in Connecticut's long-term future."
He noted that after Superstorm Sandy, he toured several beach communities where homes that had been elevated after Tropical Storm Irene sustained little or no damage, while neighboring homes were destroyed.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said the new program would help the state adapt to the continuing challenges of rising sea levels and more frequent intense storms with climate change.
"It's not just storm management, it's prevention with long-term investments," he said.
In addition to elevating buildings, the loans could be used for floodproofing to make walls watertight, to protect utilities from flooding and to make structures resistant to the physical forces of floodwaters.
Malloy said the state has made remarkable progress in repairing the damage left by Sandy, and has become better at post-storm disaster management with each of the severe storms in the past few years. But this program, he emphasized, is about being better prepared for future storms, rather than reacting to them. He said the new loan program would be set up as a revolving fund to fill what he characterized as an ongoing, long-term need to make the state's shoreline less vulnerable to storms.
Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein said that about 70 percent of insurance claims made after Sandy have been paid, but "there are still insurance battles" for some property owners, and the state has intervened in some cases. The new loan program is necessary, she said, because insurance companies have told some property owners they will not insure their homes or businesses unless the structures are elevated. Local zoning officials, she said, "recognize the challenges we face living on the shore" and are aware that structural changes such as raising houses onto stilts are necessary.
After the announcement, Malloy, Finizio and others visited Sweetie's Bakery & Cafe on Bank Street for a cupcake and coffee. Owners Aaron Dronberger and Lindsay Kreutter said the store had no structural or flooding damage from Sandy, but the storm did force them to operate with about half their normal electrical power.
"We did lose a lot of produce, and we weren't able to run our ovens," Kreutter said. "We had to turn away catering orders."