Selectman Prue opposed Stonington coastal resilience funding

I am generally sympathetic with the notion that, when you get down to the level of municipal office holders, the political party they belong to is not so important.

The pressing issues tend to be more about potholes and trash pickup than abortion rights and foreign policy.

For voters in Stonington, that distinction is not true this year. The Republican candidate for first selectman, John Prue, seems to me shockingly in lock step with the Republican president who withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and that policy posture has alarming implications for the town.

For a flood-prone shoreline community like Stonington, Prue's spirited denial of an existing study projecting severe near-term impact of rising sea levels on the town should trigger lots of alarm bells this election.

In fact, this Democrat would be delighted with another term for retiring Republican First Selectman Rob Simmons, if the alternative were a First Selectman John Prue. I don't say that lightly.

Never mind rising sea levels of the future, parts of Mystic now flood during extreme high tides. A future of flooding, especially in vulnerable historic villages, may be the town's single greatest challenge.

Prue publicly shared his skepticism about the documented flood risk projections during a Jan. 31 meeting, in which the Board of Selectmen convened to rank priorities for proposed capital improvement expenditures, things like police cruisers and computer software.

The Planning Department proposed a modest $100,000 expenditure for a sea level/coastal adaptation program. The volunteers on the town's Climate Change Task Force have been begging and denied this money, which they say could leverage new grants, for years.

Simmons, noting the town's significant risks, with only one of its four borders abutting land and not water, suggested the existing "C" ranking for the sea level program expenditure be raised to a "B." Prue argued against a higher score.

"The mainstream of climate science has this completely exaggerated approach to sea level rise," Prue said in remarks that some who attended the meeting have told me left them shocked.

I can see why, having listened to the town's archived recording of the hearing.

Prue objected strongly to the sea level rise projected in the town's 2017 study, conducted with a state grant.

"I don't see that is realistic as to what's going to happen," Selectman Prue declared.

He also seemed offended by suggestions from then Director of Planning Jason Vincent and audience members who spoke that a lack of flood planning could harm the town's rating with bond analysts. Vincent noted the town of Branford has dedicated $1 million of its reserves to flood planning for this reason.

"There is a body of data, rock solid data, tide data, that shows this steady line ... increasing, yes, accelerating, no," Prue said. "This body of data exists. It's there, and it's being overlooked, and now we are doing something to appease the bond rating agencies?"

He raised his voice for that last part, marking his incredulity.

By the time I caught up with Prue this week to ask about the January meeting, he already knew I had been to Town Hall for a copy of the meeting recording.

We had a pleasant conversation in which he sounded much more reasonable about the risk of flooding than he did when giving it a low spending priority. He assured me he is not a climate change denier and that man-made issues contribute to the problem.

He acknowledged this week that problems indeed lie ahead for Stonington, even if they don't rise to the level of a pressing need for planning expenditures.

He insisted that his own reading of New London sea level trends, which he sent me a link to, are a better indicator of what lies ahead for Stonington than the science-based study commissioned by the town.

I didn't sense a lot of sympathy from Prue for the work of the town's Climate Change Task Force, especially when he misleadingly quoted an opinion of the town attorney that it be disbanded because it has completed the task it was assigned, commissioning the sea level study.

In fact, the town attorney, noting that the town cannot legally have a standing commission on climate change, could leave the existing task force in place by merely assigning it new tasks.

The task force itself has recommended breathing new life into the town's dormant Flood and Erosion Control Board, which by state statute, would have authority to seek state grants for flood protection. Other shoreline towns have them.

Prue warned against this, saying the board would have the power of eminent domain, as if the climate change hysterics in town would come after our homes.

He didn't respond when I asked whether he would support the Board of Selectmen acting as an FECD Board, which is permitted.

I don't know a thing about the candidate endorsed by Democrats for first selectman of Stonington, but she's got my vote.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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