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Opinion: Norwalk should sign on to Western Connecticut Council of Government

 

Andy Garfunkel
Andy Garfunkel

Andy Garfunkel is the Democratic candidate for state representative in the 142nd District.

NORWALK, Conn. – Here in Norwalk, a pretty seaport, we have much in common with the other 62% of Connecticut’s population who live along Long Island Sound. The coast accounts for many of our jobs, for our recreation and for the tourists that help boost our economy.

Our coastal wetlands provide important ecological resources that help remove harmful accumulations of CO2 and nitrogen from the atmosphere, protect against wave action, and provide a nursery for commercially valuable fish, crustaceans and shellfish, as well as catches for recreational fishermen. Seventy-five per cent of the leading species of commercial fish spend part of their life cycle in coastal wetlands.

But, if the Sound giveth, it also taketh away. It accounts for damages due to rising sea levels, storm surges, and even hurricanes. And one way or another, even if Norwalk misses the hit, we eventually have to pay for damage in neighboring communities, either directly through increased taxes or indirectly through business and job losses and service interruptions.

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in conjunction with other agencies and private researchers, began studying the impact of restoring ecosystems in coastal areas like ours on all three coasts. The study in Mobile, Ala., has not yet been able to accumulate enough data, partially due to the BP oil spill disaster, but the results garnered in San Francisco Bay and in the Virginia Seaside Bay have many implications for us here in Norwalk and for Nutmeggers up and down the coast.

Preserve

By restoring ecosystems, NOAA found that every dollar invested in restoring coastal wetlands created $15 in net economic benefits, including increased stocks of fish.

Produce

For every million dollars invested, almost twice the jobs were created than if the same amount of money was spent on offshore gas and oil drilling. In other words, there is a direct connection between enhancing the environment and economic opportunity. It is a win-win. In contrast, the cost of doing nothing is lose-lose. You not only lose the cost of the damages, you lose the economic opportunity.

Provide

Planting oyster reefs and seeding eel grass in shallow water was the simple investment made by the NOAA. The oyster reefs and grass beds created wetlands that provided habitat for young fish and bay scallops, thereby contributing to commercial value and marine harvesting jobs. Oysters and other bivalves took up carbon and incorporated it in their shells. Eel grass stored more CO2 per acre than a tropical rain forest. For Norwalk, this would have a direct, positive impact on our shellfish-dependent businesses.

Protect

Coastal wetlands also often serve to buffer storm surges and soak up extra water. The Norwalk communities that got hammered during Sandy were mainly those on the water’s edge, where no barrier ecosystems existed. As the sea level rises, we should consider developing these and other barriers, wherever practical. Individual communities cannot, by themselves, undertake coastline protection without shifting the problem to the next low-lying area.

Policy

An important factor in this type of intra-state cooperation is involvement by regional planning agencies. Our state government has decided to simplify our current structure of 15 regional planning agencies and a number of “councils of government,” or COGs, by eliminating the regional planning agencies and working with nine remaining COGs. Norwalk is currently a member of the Southwest Regional Planning Alliance (SWRPA), which will shut its doors in December, and should act quickly to join the communities that form the Western Connecticut Council of Government. As of this writing, the Norwalk Common Council has not yet voted to have Norwalk participate in the WCCOG, and I urge it to take that step, so that Norwalk officials can continue with these vital regional planning discussions without disruption.

Comments

8 responses to “Opinion: Norwalk should sign on to Western Connecticut Council of Government”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    The Common Council, in my opinion, has been hesitant to join the newly created Western Connecticut COG because the majority of the eighteen towns in the new COG are not coastal and thus have problems and interests that do not dovetail with our problems and interests.
    .
    We also believe eighteen is too large a number and could put Norwalk in some difficult positions; for instance, what does a town of 85,000 do when outvoted consistently by six non-coastal towns with populations of around 15,000.
    .
    We will again discuss the COG this fall and will make a decision that we feel is in the best interest of the city.

  2. EveT

    Glad to see a candidate paying attention to coastal infrastructure risks. Sierra Club Magazine reports that “if we continue on our current path, between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of existing coastal property [nationwide] will be under the waves by 2050” (Sept-Oct 2014, p. 4).

  3. Debora

    @Bruce,
    How does the Council intend to get state grants for major public works projects without participation in a COG? Isn’t the review of a regional agency required? If not this one, then is there another that makes more sense? If not, do we have a mind to form one of our own? There are only a few months left before Norwalk is left without representation in a regional agency and it does not appear to have been discussed at the committee level since last December.

  4. EveT

    Here is a link to the report cited in the Sierra Club magazine
    http://riskybusiness.org/report/overview/executive-summary

  5. One and Done

    Thanks to Bruce for looking out for our best interests. Since when has more government been the answer to our problems? Enough already. How about the DEEP do its job instead of fleecing us in higher energy costs and salt water fishing permits without doing a damn thing to boost the health of our ecosystems?

  6. Debora

    Actually One and Done, this is LESS government. The state is doing away with the regional planning agencies, which to some degree duplicated some of the functions of the COGS. There are far fewer COGS, which results in larger memberships, as Bruce pointed out. But, at present, if a muni wants state money to do a project like the East Avenue widening and lowering, the project must first be vetted by a regional planning agency or a COG. It is unclear to me whether the COGS will function the same way with respect to state funds, and if they will, it would be problematic for Norwalk not to figure this out before SWRPA goes away.

  7. One and Done

    @Deborah. Eliminate all COGs. The council, aptly lead by Bruce et al, and our state representatives can get the job done. The DEEP can do its job. I’d even dare say allocate part of the COGs to the various functions at the state level and demand results. This isn’t the state of California, we are one of the smallest states in the Union. We don’t need all these extra layers. In fact they are counterproductive. A blind person can see this just driving down any state road.

  8. piberman

    Andy:

    Over the years there have suggestions to replicate Stamford’s successful Hurricane Gate in Norwalk’s harbor. That’s the type of specific project that might generate local interest. Similarly use Manessa Island as the base of an oceanographic and maritime college together with the Aquarium. So far no local Legislator has focused on environmental facets of our Sound. Here’s an opportunity.

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