Published September 20, 2021
By Sten Spinella
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection focused on New London and Groton Monday night at a virtual workshop designed to foster a local conversation about climate change.
Guests from the region conversed among themselves and with DEEP moderators about solutions to city and regional environmental problems related to climate change.
The first panel, moderated by New London resident Sharmaine Gregor, looked at community climate solutions. New London Public Utilities Director Joseph Lanzafame focused on storm water management, noting that his work is on the mitigation side of climate change rather than prevention.
"I'm sure all of you have noticed we're getting more severe storms as of late where we're getting major rainfall," Lanzafame said. New London saw 5 inches of rainfall in one hour during Hurricane Ida, and 8 inches in three to four hours, Lanzafame continued. He detailed New London's storm water authority efforts to promote localized mitigation measures and to pay special attention to areas more prone to flooding.
Lanzafame said municipalities need to monitor the physical infrastructure — pipes, catch basins, pump stations, etc. — and to continue to look for ways to improve the system.
City of Groton Economic Development Specialist Cierra Patrick spoke to Groton's efforts on the city's Community Resilience Plan. She said each department in town is thinking about its role in combating climate change and dealing with manmade and natural disasters. The city as a whole is concerned with sea level rise, with a prediction that it will rise 20 inches by 2050, she said.
"Groton Utilities' focus is on the infrastructure of how things are designed, what improvements need to be made, and police and fire (departments are) a lot more interested in response," Patrick said. "How do we respond? What are ways we can make improvements to those response times?"
He said the effort is highlighting different collaborations as well as different solutions the community can use to prepare for climate change.
Patrick has said it's important for the city to tackle resiliency in the coastal community, which is bordered by the Thames River and Long Island Sound and where more than 75% of land is near water. The city is home to major employers, including Electric Boat and Pfizer, along with about 10,000 residents, and hosts the headquarters of Groton Utilities, a public utility.
Lanzafame said community development policies can control flooding and use smart stormwater management plans.
"In urbanized areas you have a lot of problems, you have nowhere for the water to go," he said. "We like to work on a site by site basis, and require that when a development comes in you do not increase the amount of storm water generated by your site."
He said he is a proponent of "storm water basins, underground chambers, things that retain water so that when the storm is gone you can slowly release that water."
Both Lanzafame and Patrick agreed that hyperlocal resiliency plans are essential to improving the community's prospects of handling the effects of climate change. Lanzafame said local communities are the first place local officials should go to figure out how to ameliorate local environmental issues.
Jennifer Muggeo, the deputy director of Ledge Light Health District, said climate change is deeply connected to public health. For example, she said there's an increase in vector-borne diseases with an increase in storms, and exaggerated asthma is associated with air quality. She and fellow panel guest Ronna Stuller, chair of the New London Green Town Committee, recognized inequities in how climate change affects people differently based on race and class.
"Who can afford to evacuate when a storm is coming?" Muggeo asked. "Who receives resources that are directed by policy toward homeowners when 60% of a community rents their living space? Who can afford to recover after they've evacuated? We see the replay of the same power dynamics, and it will continue to impact public health until we change."
Muggeo drew similarities between environmental and health outcomes by saying that for too long, both have been measured by personal choices when social determinants and large corporations bear a larger blame.
A DEEP resources panel featured Kaitlyn Cyr of DEEP's Bureau of Energy, Technology, and Policy, DEEP urban forestry coordinator Danica Doroski and Nicole Lugli of DEEP planning.
Doroski, Cyr and Lugli highlighted funding opportunities for climate-related projects, some of which can be found on line at
https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP-urb..., https://energizect.com/your-to... and https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Open-Space/Open-Space.
DEEP plans to build on Monday's workshop, organized in partnership with the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, with in-person discussion groups in Groton on Wednesday and in New London on Thursday.