Towns discuss regional disaster mitigation plan

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Region - posted Fri., Jul. 19, 2013
Bill Perkins, a contractor with the Capitol Region Council of Governments, led the meeting about the regional Hazard Mitigation Plan on July 18 in Vernon. Photos by Steve Smith.
Bill Perkins, a contractor with the Capitol Region Council of Governments, led the meeting about the regional Hazard Mitigation Plan on July 18 in Vernon. Photos by Steve Smith.

Representatives from the Capitol Region Council of Governments spoke about the development of a Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan at a public meeting held at the Vernon Senior Center on July 18.

Town officials, including emergency management and public works personnel from Tolland, Ellington, East Windsor, Somers, Stafford and Vernon were part of the meeting, led by Bill Perkins – a contractor with CRCOG and Lynn Pike-DiSanto.

The goal is to create a plan that will help protect the 750,000 people in the the region - as well as the $88 billion in property - from disasters including severe snowstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought and floods.

The purpose of formulating the plan is to set forth mitigation strategies that will help limit the loss of life and property, economic disruptions and the cost of post-disaster recovery for the 30 communities in the Capitol Region.

The plan specifically focuses on reducing or eliminating the impacts of natural hazards which include hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, dam failures, droughts, earthquakes, floods and forest fires. Another purpose of the plan, at this stage in the process, is to gather data from each town as to what their disaster vulnerabilities are, as well as their needs, and identify projects that will mitigate the impact of disasters on each community and the region as a whole.

“We want to be able to improve the communities' abilities, and by doing that, improve the region's ability to deal with natural disasters,” Perkins said. “Hopefully, it will reduce the amount of responses for first-responders.”

Vernon Mayor George Apel welcomed the officials, and said that he felt that the meeting would be fruitful.

“I know whatever comes out of this is going to be well worthwhile,” Apel said.

Perkins outlined the various potential disasters, and what amount of damage and cost of mitigation and cleanup would happen to each town in various scenarios.

Floods, hurricanes, winter storms and tornadoes were identified as the biggest disaster concerns for the region.

Hurricanes, for example, have a large impact, because they can cause damage throughout the region and state. Economic losses of a category 3 hurricane can be substantial. Tropical storm Irene (which was not a hurricane when it hit the state) cost the town of Vernon $142,000, while costing East Windsor $120,000, Somers $35,000 and Ellington $44,000, as a few local examples.

Winter storms were also tough on the region in recent years, including the winter storm of 2011, which cost Vernon $3.8 million, Tolland $841,000, and Stafford $150,000.

Ellington Public Works Director Timothy Webb said that in the wake of that storm, routes 83 and 140 were blocked by fallen trees, and the biggest difficulty was communicating with the Connecticut State DOT.

Perkins said that what CRCOG could do in that situation is have a louder voice – that of 30 towns, instead of just one – when speaking to the state agencies, which would hopefully net a better response.

“We could facilitate the discussion,” he said. “If we can get 30 communities represented... and go with a united front, that's going to get some notice.”

Perkins said the plan has other ways it can help, including assisting in developing storm water quality guidelines, advice on planning and zoning, including development that is sensitive to drainage, and in aiding towns in their plans of conservation and development, as well as with seeking grants, among other ways.

Town of Vernon Emergency Management Director Michael Purcaro said the Hazard Mitigation Plan will help identify the towns' strengths and vulnerabilities and help in addressing them.

“That's important to do,” he said. “Secondly, I think it's important for us to contribute, as a local municipality, to the bigger plan, because it helps inform our neighbors. During a response, if there's a need to call for mutual aid, I have a better understanding of what my neighboring towns' capacities and assets will be.”

Purcaro said also that by demonstrating needs, the hope is that the CRCOG plan will aid in seeking grants or other funding for equipment needed by the towns.

“Certainly knowing what you think is important, as far as equipment, we could get more discussion going,” Pike-DiSanto said. “If we had a good indication from the towns about what we are looking at, we could certainly pursue it further.”

Perkins said that a complete draft of the plan is expected sometime around the end of September, and two more public meetings will take place, most likely in Enfield and Hartford. Several state committees will then have to approve it. The state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will have to approve the plan, and then it will be submitted to FEMA. Each community will then have to accept the plan as their hazard mitigation plan. It will then be in effect for a period of five years, before the process begins again.

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