Climate Change Forces Coastal Communities to Consider Options

May 14, 2014

In Connecticut, the global issue of climate change is being confronted locally.

The Day of New London reports that in Old Saybrook, a municipal panel met for the first time last week to consider how to help the low-lying coastal community cope with rising sea levels.

“I see sea level rise for Old Saybrook as being the most important natural hazard,” Sandy Prisloe, the town’s environmental planner, said at the Sea Level Rise Climate Adaptation Committee. “Future storms will create more and more damage. How can we be proactive to mitigate problems down the road?”

A federal report released last week says sea levels along the North Atlantic coast has risen about 1 foot since 1900 and are projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.

One response is the design of a bridge over the Yantic River in Norwich. Barry Ellison, public works director, says the $7 million project would replace two spans built more than 50 years ago.

The increased frequency of flooding is being considered in the six or seven designs being considered, he said. The water has been up against the bottom of the bridge three times in the last 10 years, Ellison said.

Communities such as East Lyme, Old Lyme, Stonington borough and Waterford are starting to consider climate change in their decisions about future investments in projects such as culverts, pump stations and dune restoration, said Adam Whelchel, director of science at the Connecticut chapter of The Nature Conservancy

“But as far as hard-core projects, on-the-ground stuff, we’re still light on action,” he said. “We’re still in the planning phase.”

Most of the attention has so far focused on the hazards of intense storms, sea level rise and flooding, Whelchel said. Towns also need to focus on the threat of more frequent and prolonged heat waves and public health implications of climate change, such as higher pollen counts that exacerbate asthma and infestations of Asian tiger mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus, he said.

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