New London – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy marked the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy by unveiling a not-quite-baked, low-interest loan program to help coastal property owners elevate their homes and waterproof their businesses in preparation for the next storm.
Under terms still being developed, the Connecticut Shoreline Resiliency Fund would provide up to $300,000 for mitigation projects not eligible for a piece of the federal assistance given to Connecticut after Sandy knocked low-lying homes off foundations, flooded businesses and plunged much of the state into a prolonged blackout.
“It is remarkable how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time since Superstorm Sandy,” Malloy said.
But many homeowners, including those with income levels too high to qualify for some federal assistance, have struggled to find the financing to raise their homes on pilings, a project that can cost more than $100,000, depending on the size of the home.
“This is an important investment in Connecticut’s long term future,” Malloy said. “I’ve walked beaches in Connecticut, in Milford, East Haven, West Haven, up and down the coast, and recognize that we will be far better off every time we are able to raise one of those residents outside of what is the new flood plain.”
Malloy said coastal homes raised after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene the previous year survived the record storm surge of Sandy. The Democratic governor said raising homes is a more economical measure than trying to protect the coast or buy out endangered homes.
“We’re not going to get people to move away from the coast, and, by the way, if we did it would be devastating to our economy, so the best investment we can make is on resiliency,” Malloy said.
Malloy said the program would begin with $2 million in bonding already authorized, and he would seek legislative approval in February for $25 million. To be eligible, the properties must be subject to coastal flooding in either Zone VE or Coastal Zone AE, two flood zone designations.
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the administation, said the program was intended to complement the menu of existing assistance programs, which have income limits and are restricted to properties damaged. Connecticut property owners have been paid $249.5 million under the National Flood Insurance Program, while businesses and individuals received $51.6 million in disaster loans.
“While we’re grateful for the federal programs, there were clear gaps,” Doba said.
Malloy announced the new program in an empty parking lot behind Sweetie’s Bakery & Café on Bank Street. It was an odd setting, given that the owners, Lindsay Kreutter and Aaron Donberger, see no need to waterproof their two-year-old business.
The biggest impact on their bakery was a loss of power. The store did not flood.
The governor was joined by New London Mayor Daryl Finzio and some legislative members of the Shoreline Preservation Task Force formed after Irene.
One member not present was Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven. He issued a scathing statement accusing DEEP, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, of being an impediment to recovery.
“The DEEP permitting process is still too slow and the cost of complying with unreasonable state regulations is still prohibitive,” Fasano said. “On the one hand, shoreline residents have seen flood insurance rates skyrocket because of increased exposure to natural disasters, and on the other hand DEEP is preventing homeowners from taking the necessary steps to reduce that exposure and protect their families and properties. It’s a catch 22 that neither the governor, nor DEEP, nor our congressional delegation has done anything to remedy.”
The rate increases are due to a law passed prior to Sandy to strengthen the underfunded insurance program, which offers heavily subsidized coverage.
Doba said Fasano was wrong about the red tape.
“The state has made great strides in cutting red tape. In the aftermath of Storms Irene and Sandy, DEEP issued emergency authorizations allowing property owners to repair damage and secure their properties without any prior permits,” Doba said. “They were allowed to undertake this work and file for any necessary permits after the fact. Many property owners up and down the shoreline took advantage of this action to get work done quickly.
Doba said DEEP’s approvals are typically granted within 45 days, with 100 percent granted within 90 days, despite a crush of applications after Irene and Sandy.