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New research center on climate change preparation to be at Avery Point

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published January 21. 2014 4:00AM   Updated January 22. 2014 1:00PM
DEEP, UConn will work jointly on prep for climate change

Groton - The state is using a $2.5 million settlement of a water pollution lawsuit to create a new research center at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus that will help municipalities, businesses and homeowners determine the best methods to protect their properties against what the state says are rising seas and more frequent severe storms caused by climate change.

The Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation will be a partnership of UConn and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Its formation will be formally announced at an event at 11 a.m. Friday at the Branford House at Avery Point, which will include Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, UConn President Susan Herbst, DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty and local legislators.

The institute's charge will be to determine "how do we help residents and communities and businesses be better prepared for climate change?" Dennis Schain, DEEP spokesman, said Monday. "It will be to develop strategies and practical solutions, and to do things in an environmentally sound way that will protect ecosystems and wildlife."

The settlement, announced Dec. 5 by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Connecticut, resolved a pending case against the Unilever manufacturing plant in Clinton, for violating its state wastewater discharge permit. The state sued the company, also known as Conopco Inc., in 2009 and 2012 over discharges of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into state waterways. Schain said the settlement funds enable the institute to "get up and running immediately." Grant funds will be sought to support it into the future.

In announcing the settlement, Malloy said the funding will "bring to life" the state's vision for the institute. A state law approved last year called for the creation of the institute, but did not identify funding to support it.

"The people of our state suffered greatly as a result of Hurricane Irene and Storm Sandy, and unfortunately the outlook ahead is for even more extreme weather," Malloy said in a Dec. 5 statement. "Those events, and the continued rising of sea levels cause by the climate warming, mean that lives, property and infrastructure are at increased risk from strong winds, tidal surges and flooding."

The institute's mission, Malloy said, will be to better predict the level of vulnerability of particular areas and recommend steps to help them better withstand future floods and storms. It will combine the expertise and research capabilities of UConn scientists with the regulatory experience of DEEP, he said.

Herbst, the UConn president, said in the Dec. 5 statement that experts at the university in the natural sciences, public policy, civil and environmental engineering and other disciplines will all contribute to the institute's projects.

James O'Donnell, professor of marine sciences and physics at Avery Point, has been the ad hoc chairman of the committee that has been meeting over the last several months to plan the new institute. During that time, DEEP and UConn have reached an agreement over space at the campus, the institute's budget, and other areas, he said. It would employ the equivalent of about five to 10 full-time staff on various projects, about half of whom are already at UConn and DEEP working on research related to climate change adaptation, he said.

"The intent ... is to do demonstration projects, and evaluate alternatives to sea walls and provide advice to towns and make proposals that can be applied," he said.

He likened the new institute to the network of UConn Extension Centers that advise farmers, businesses and the general public on agriculture, forestry and related areas. It would be in keeping with UConn's founding mission as a land grant university that contributes to the state's economy, he added.

"The tradition of UConn has always been to help the state effectively adapt in ways that will be effective," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

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