Making region stronger is focus of resilience project

A yearlong initiative has yielded recommendations for three projects that could be undertaken to provide examples of how to make southeastern Connecticut better able to withstand the challenges of climate change, as well as changing social and economic conditions.

“This is really about how do we make southeastern Connecticut stronger, for whatever comes, whether it’s extreme weather or a recession,” Adam Whelchel, director of science for The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut chapter, said Monday.

Working with a $75,000 grant from The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the conservancy joined with the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region on the project. It brought together town planners as well as representatives of more than 50 businesses, public health and social service agencies and institutions in nine towns: East Lyme, Salem, Montville, Waterford, New London, Norwich, Ledyard, Groton and Stonington.

The result is a report titled "Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resilience Vision Project." Summarized in the report are the outcome of workshop discussions focused on challenges and possible solutions in six areas: water, food, ecosystem services, transportation, energy and the regional economy.

Whelchel said the conservancy initiated the project as an outgrowth of its work along the Connecticut coast since 2006 to make the region’s salt marshes, flood plains and other ecosystems more resilient to the climate change impacts of rising sea levels and more severe storms.

“This is really stretching how we’re defining resilience, to include social and economic conditions,” he said.

James Butler, executive director of the Council of Governments, said the project is the first time these towns have come together to tackle resiliency on a regional scale. The work, he said, will add to planning for emergencies and work in individual towns to better prepare for severe storms and more frequent flooding.

The three projects identified as prototypes are:

• Jordan Village in Waterford, where the intersection of Rope Ferry Road and Great Neck Road is vulnerable to river flooding and storm surge from Long Island Sound. A proposed redesign of the intersection would increase flood storage capacity and improve the area for pedestrians.

• Neighborhoods in Waterford and East Lyme around the lower Niantic River. Shoreline properties vulnerable to flooding, storms and erosion would be retrofitted with natural infrastructure such as oyster reefs and vegetated shorelines. Salt marsh habitat would be expanded into an area of Mago Point.

• Poquonnock Bridge in Groton. There, Groton-New London Airport, major roadways, a rail line, residential neighborhoods and municipal buildings are in a vulnerable flood plain, and would be the focus of a planning effort to determine the best alternatives for improving resiliency while protecting the Poquonnock Estuary.

For the next step in the project, the conservancy will use a $100,000 grant from the Community Foundation over the next year to develop conceptual designs for specific projects, identify vulnerable intersections and neighborhoods and the salt marshes and flood plain buffers that should be protected, Whelchel said.

“We want to identify the really key locations that can use those conceptual designs,” he said.

The work also would focus on bringing together planning and engineering resources on a regional scale.

Jason Vincent, director of planning for Stonington, said the main value of the project was in opening up a regional dialogue about resiliency.

“It’s important to have planning at this scale for this region,” he said.

Stonington is among towns that have been doing resiliency planning on their own, but many of these issues are best done collaboratively, he said. “The more we can work on this collectively, the more powerful the effect will be.”

j.benson@theday.com

Editor's Note: The name of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut has been corrected.


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