The Conservation Commission presented its 18-month long study regarding sea level rise and its effects on Greenwich. The three-part study is nearly complete, and the commission invited town residents to hear what the results are over the course of two presentations on June 9 and June 16, 2021. The presentations featured the consulting team led by the engineering firm of Princeton Hydro, with support from planners at BRS. Inc. and ecologists from Ecopolitan.
With the knowledge our sea level has risen eight inches in the last 100 years and state planning standards identifying another 20 inches of rise by 2050, the Conservation Commission embarked on a joint-department investigation of how this will affect Greenwich. Anecdotal evidence of change exists. Police Chief Jim Heavey, with decades of experience in town, speaks to his observations. He stated, “It is increasingly more often his department is calling for evacuations with impending storms and dealing with flooded low-lying areas associated with storms or higher tides.”
The observations of the Town’s Department of Public Works Commissioner and Director of Parks and Recreation participated with Chief Heavey in the making of “Voices of Greenwich,” a short video where they share their changing experiences. The video also includes the story of the Barry family whose home suffered flooding and damage with Superstorm Sandy and the aftermath of repairing their home. Referencing the family’s decision to rebuild or relocate, Michael Barry states, “[He] was surprised how bad the damage was and knew [he] wouldn’t go through it again but didn’t want to leave either.” The Barry’s chose to rebuild along with raising their home above flood elevations.
Recognizing anecdotal observations is not enough, the Conservation Commission received funding to pursue a sea level rise coastal resiliency assessment. “The effects of flooding from sea level rise need to be evaluated for Greenwich specifically if, as a town, we are going to make appropriate plans for our future,” stated Patricia Sesto, director of environmental affairs.
The study evaluates various sea level rise scenarios through 2100 and the diverse impacts to town structures and resources. It is clear from the findings, as sea level rises, people are going to have to rethink storm responses and adapt to more nuisance flooding from seasonal high tides. In the longer run, some town infrastructure will simply not be serviceable. Amy Siebert, DPW commissioner commented, “It is clear we cannot out engineer sea level rise. The goal will eventually be to work to come back to homes after the storm and let go of the expectation that residents can ride out even moderate storms at home as roads flood and stormwater management features cannot function for a period.”
In addition to analyzing the impacts of sea level rise, the evaluation looked at our zoning and building regulations and the current state of the town’s four tidal ponds. Katie Deluca, director of planning welcomed the independent review of zoning regulations. She stated, “It was a worthwhile exercise to have outside planning professionals review our regulations with a focused eye towards coastal resiliency. The coast is one our greatest assets and understanding how we should approach sea level rise from a planning perspective is crucial.”
Planning for sea level rise is a notable topic within the latest Plan of Conservation and Development. The analysis should provide the additional information needed to pursue various tasks to increase the town’s resiliency.
Managing the town’s tidal ponds will take information from the assessment as well. The ponds already have salt water intrusion to varying degrees and this will simply increase overtime. The assessment will help guide decisions regarding plantings, future recreational activities, and changes to associated infrastructure.
Conservation Commission chairman, Bill Rutherford, explained the topic of sea level rise has been part of the commission’s work for a number of years. The importance of it became acutely clear following Superstorm Sandy and the damage to shoreline parks. “We want to know what to expect and how to plan for it,” stated Rutherford. Adding “One of the town’s greatest natural and recreational asset is Greenwich Point. We need this information to make preparations and to make tough decisions on what we can and cannot do to protect this peninsula.” Mr. Rutherford looks to these public meetings as a way to help educate people about the impacts of sea level rise to Greenwich and allow them to make informed decisions during budget hearing, planning meetings, etc.
Part 1 (6/9/21) video and audio recording here.
Part 2 (6/16/21) video and audio recording here.