This is not an official document, and only expresses the thoughts of this webpage - begun November 13, 2012.


Planning Alternative Solutions for Weston in Order to Live in a Sustainable Way: 
Standards for Municipal and Individual Security in Weston and a Timeline for Action, a Study by "About Town" inspired by Hurricane Sandy.

Contents:  The Chapters

NEWS What's up for 2015?  In 2014 in CT, it was a change at D.E.E.P.;

The introduction
Philosophical underpinnings

Chapter One:  How could this, adapting "sustainability" as a measure for all municipal actions, work in Weston?

Chapter Two:  Government and other man-made entities.  How do we build consensus?

Chapter Three: 
What is our existing infrastructure model for municipal and individual security?  How has it been tested in the last two years?  What should we do next?

Chapter Four:  Foundations for the Plan.  Implementation by consensus.

BACKGROUND:  Weston EMS, WVFD activities previously, as recorded on this website.


Former Commissioner of D.E.E.P. Professor Dan Esty
addressed the issue of sustainability at Yale in April of his presentation here:

If NYC is an example of the urban - Weston, in these terms, is rural.  What is it about Weston that makes living here like Feng shui In an official-studded announcement that is turning out to be one of the worst kept environmental program secrets in the state, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Friday will unveil plans for a new Institute for Community Resilience and Climate Adaptation at the Avery Point Campus of the University of Connecticut...more here.

HURRICANE SANDY:  Evergreen trees were hit hardest here - our Kousa Dogwood held its own.  "Depth to bedrock"map from D-O - lighter shade of grey, closer to bedrock - shallower root system?  Speaking of Sandy, New Haven tree story at PURA.

What is so special about Weston, Connecticut?  We're #1 for being the least non-residentially zoned community of all 169 in CT!

Bridgeport Hydraulic Company had owned what became the Lucius Pond Ordway Preserve ("Devil's Den"), having flooded a good part of the original town of Weston in order to build the Saugatuck Reservoir in the 1930's.  City-centric development patterns held until the 1950's and 1960's.

We were ahead of the game.  Weston was so remote in the mid 1960's that it showed as a blank spot on the map developed by SWRPA, putting together all 8 towns and their own plans of development.  Before we talked about sustainability, shortly after the first "Earth Day," Weston, CT did it's own "Weston Environmental Resources Manual"  in 1976.  If we use the new Google tool to check the origin of the word "sustainability" we find that it came into the 1970's!

Since no one really knows how much water is below the surface, and no one can guarantee how much rainfall there will be, Weston has always tried not to overtax its natural resources by giving into arguments about increasing ratables by permitting industrial and business development.  Neither have town boards and commissions weakened under the threat of lawsuits for other changes to the all-residential (special permits for apartments and home occupations;  farming permitted as of right) nature of the town..

Sounds like a plan to be sustainable to me!

The Wikipedia definition of "sustainability."
Sustainability in a general sense is the capacity to support, maintain or endure. Since the 1980s human sustainability has been related to the integration of environmental, economic, and social dimensions towards global stewardship and responsible management of resources

What is the E.P.A. definition of "sustainability?"

"Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations."  So says E.P.A.

What is the "triple bottom line?"
"The TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial. This differs from traditional reporting frameworks as it includes ecological (or environmental) and social measures that can be difficult to assign appropriate means of measurement. The TBL dimensions are also commonly called the three Ps: people, planet and profits. We will refer to these as the 3Ps."  From a research study at Indiana University.

CHAPTER ONE:  Sustainability as a guiding principle is something the Planet needs.

Google "sustainability" and guess what?  Here we are at #5  (the blog):
Weston is at the cutting edge, at least as far as being at the top of the Google search function!  Why is that?  Because this community decided many, many years ago to forego "ratables" for sustainability goals - the environmental kind.  We are now into more of the "triple bottom line" theory - exchange "minimizing increases in property tax" for "profits."

It is true that you pay better attention to societal problems if they fall close to home.  Example near top of this page, out my front door.   Obvious to me is that this is a global problem (more floods everywhere of greater strength) and as the weather pattern changes and water increases in temperature, hurricanes become more powerfull..

In Weston, we have effectively lived "sustainability" since 1976 (Other ideas from "Weston Environmental Resolurces Manual" - Dominski-Oakrock Study).  In 1993, the Weston Water Study investigated water quality in our private wells (a rigorous investigation by Dr. Jan Dunn).  There was no way to accurately assess water quantity - but the concept of maintaining a balanced water cycle was suggested as good policy, in principle.

All the participants in decision making about the Weston environment must be on the same page - coordinated.  For example:

CHAPTER TWO:  Beyond local government.  Federal, State and Voluntary Regional Planning :  OTHER ACTORS - REGULATED PRIVATE ENERGY SUPPLIERS

New Jersey beach community (l) looks like Katrina
If "contact" (next) would this be "federal case?"  No.  Or an insurance claim?  Maybe...but for sure, coastal communities got whacked...those of us inland and upland, on shallow soil areas did, too!

Federal Role:  Nature Conservancy's work on "sustainability" here.
Will the latest stress on FEMA produce a change in standards for flood insurance, etc.?  Will we change the way we build in flood plains?  How about Climate Change re:  coastal communities?  How about the Army Corps of Engineers role in future policy on these matters?

Connecticut Role:
The immediate questions will be answered;  how does the new State Plan of C&D address this?  Where in the Plan is sustainibility mentioned?  Make that "Three Storm" panel, now.   Read of State Senator e-mail on relief $$.  "Micro-Grid" idea from 2011 here.  What is the role of regulatory agencies (i.e. PURA)?

DEEP to hold hearing on proposed stormwater rule changes

Publication: The Day
By Judy Benson
Published November 29. 2014 4:00AM

Towns will be required to clean catch basins more frequently, sweep roads twice a year to remove sand, salt and leaves, inspect storm drains regularly to check for illegal discharges and sample to find and address the most highly polluted stormwater, under changes proposed by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection...story in full:

Regional Planning role "Sustainable Communities" for Tri-State Region;  amend the current SWRPA Regional Plan of C&D to make sure "sustainability" is explained and introduced into EVERY PART of the document.
  In 2014, SWRPA holds Hazard and Resiliency Workshops - with the Nature Conservancy...and speaking of regions, these entities have been merged as of January 1, 2015 in Connecticut.


PURA delays decision on Connecticut utilities’ tree-cutting program
Luther Turmelle,
New Haven Register

NEW BRITAIN >> State regulators will wait a week before issuing a final decision on their review of plans by the state’s electric and telecommunications companies to trim trees near utility poles.

The outcome of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority’s investigation into the tree-trimming practices of the utilities is being watched closely by customers of the United Illuminating Co., where opposition to the company’s plan has been significant. PURA was to issue its draft decision in the case Wednesday, but the ruling was postponed until Jan. 29 because of what agency spokesman Dennis Schain termed “technical and legal revisions that will require more time than allowed for under the original deadline.”

UI isn’t the only utility whose customers would be affected by PURA decision. But public opposition to its tree-trimming plans has been high profile, with more than 100 people turning out at Hamden Middle School Jan. 15 to protest the plans.

From the perspective of Joe Thomas, UI’s vice president of electric system operations, the utility got the approval it needed to begin implementing the first phase of its eight-year, $100 million tree-trimming program from PURA last year as part of a rate case that was before the regulatory agency.

“What we’re looking for in this latest case with PURA is confirmation of our plan,” Thomas said. “But if PURA decides it wants to make changes, then we’ll make them.”

Right now, UI is in the pilot phase of its tree-trimming program, with work being done in selected areas of Hamden, Orange, Shelton and Bridgeport. The utility’s full-scale rollout of the trimming won’t begin until June.

Nancy Alderman of North Haven was among those who attended the presentation of UI’s tree trimming plans in Hamden. She urged the company and PURA officials to consider some sort of compromise.

“There’s no question there have been problems in the past with trees knocking down electrical wires,” Alderman said. “In areas like schools, hospitals and convalescent homes, the wires should be buried underground. Elsewhere, there should be a respectful pruning of trees, not a wholesale cutting down of them.”

A number of UI customers have sent letters to PURA that are included as part of the agency’s review, saying that the utility’s plan is overly aggressive and would reduce the value of their property if implemented.

Not everyone is opposed to increased tree-trimming efforts. In a letter submitted to PURA last August, Manchester Director of Public Works Mark Carlino voiced his support for Connecticut Light & Power’s enhanced tree trimming program.

“More focused investigation of trees along utility lines and a more comprehensive tree trimming and removal program will lessen the impact that trees will have on overhead utility lines,” Carlino wrote in his letter.

Utility Companies, Insurance Industry Role
PURA scheduling hearings soon, according to sources.  And as creatures of the state, in a manner of speaking, since utility companies are give more freedom to operate than other private businesses, what is the Legislature going to do to deal with them in the next session?  (In terms of rates and other matters.)  NOTE:  Co-Chair. of Energy & Technology Committee defeated for re-election by  candidate with relations to wind energy firm...

No vortex, but power use again in polar spike
By: Jan Ellen Spiegel | January 22, 2014

It may not be a true polar vortex, but as far as the independent system operator that runs the New England power grid is concerned – it might as well be.

ISO New England, as it did during the true polar vortex two weeks ago, has posted power alerts system-wide since last night. It essentially means all-hands-on-deck. Power generators that feed the grid must be available – no routine maintenance or testing allowed.

And as happened two weeks ago, natural gas prices are running high as some of the natural gas is being diverted for heat. And once again the region’s plants are burning a whole lot of oil and coal.

Oil is accounting for more than 20 percent of the generation Wednesday. Normally it averages less than one percent. Coal has been running about seven percent of the fuel mix. Normally it averages about three percent.

And as of early afternoon, power demand was running above the predicted demand for the day, with peak power period still several hours away.

CHAPTER THREE:  In the neighborhood (s) many people equals a neighborhood in Weston?

Density map - click for enlargement of SWRPA map.

How does the political system work for or against Weston?  Can we rally other small towns to get action for change?

Should there be an over-arching concept behind what the Town does? 

Can more be done by WCSC than it has done already?

Beyond the "shelter in place" doctrine?

Individual sustainability plans?

What more is left to do?

CHAPTER FOUR:  "Foundations for the Planet Weston" under development..."PPP" stands for people, planet, profits.  "Profits" on a local government scale, in our case.

Depths legend and map,
Weston Environmental Resources Manual 1976, a.k.a."Domiski-Oakrock".

Which is the correct map to use to discuss PPP - one that shows natural resources or one that shows population density - or one that shows centers of community activity?  How about overlaying all of them and seeing what we've got?

Speaking of the map - we are reminded of depth to bedrock map from 1976 Dominski-Oakrock report.  We are reminded of this by comments in this story - Weston already has an idea about depth to bedrock!  Of course, it was presented a long time ago, and it was in reference to septic systems...but bedrock doesn't change unless there earthquake.

WHAT'S NEEDED:  A map or series of maps showing "neighborhoods" and  major communication linkages coordinated with the emergency relief  and services centers and the command center.  Explanation of types of storms/threats and scenarios


GOAL:  Safety and security
POLICIES:  Coordination of  town and private actions
PROGRAMS:  "Shelter in place" requirements planning for short/medium and longer periods; comfort station organization;  provide power to town buildings;  private planning ahead to find alternative solutions

& IMPLEMENTATION: Estimates of needs by type and scale of events, cross-tabulated.  Communication strategy.



Story in full:

Everything urban is rural again...sustainability.
Link to the earliest mention of "smart growth: in CT (c) or at right, rain garden concept for taking care of stormwater for new Police Station building (new roof space=more impervious surface PLUS parking lot). 

Reorganization in CT
Former CT Siting Council called "PURA," one of entities under "DEEP" (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection)

The Generator Is the Machine of the Moment
January 11, 2013

IN the days that followed Hurricane Sandy, the developer of the luxury condominium 150 Charles Street hunkered down with his team of architects and engineers to rethink the building’s design.

Just steps from the Hudson River, the construction site was partially flooded. “Their mandate was to figure out how the building would have stayed open in a storm like this,” said Steven Witkoff, the developer. “They came back with a list of five things, and we implemented every single one.”

The efforts delayed the project by some six weeks and added as much as $3 million to its cost.

It was one of a number of projects that convened their engineers and construction teams to reconsider their plans after the rising waters rushed over the city’s embankments and into the basements of countless residential buildings across Lower Manhattan.

Now, more than two months after the storm caused millions of dollars in damage, novel and costly waterproofing techniques are being employed, including the addition of backup generators and floodgates, and the relocation of mechanical equipment. The owners of buildings that predate the flooding are also looking at these measures, although retroactive installation is so complex and costly that some may decide not to do anything.

“If you are in the flood zone and you are marketing a new high-end property, it will need to stand up to the test of another superstorm,” said Stephen G. Kliegerman, the executive director of development marketing for Halstead Property. “I think buyers would happily pay to be relatively reassured they wouldn’t be terribly inconvenienced in case of a natural disaster.”

At 150 Charles Street, Mr. Witkoff plans to forestall a blackout by installing two natural-gas-powered generators on the roof to run the fire-alarm system, the emergency egress lighting, the elevators, and electrical and mechanical support equipment. Each apartment will be equipped with at least one electrical outlet connected to the generators. The developer is also ordering five-foot-tall floodgates that can be assembled and installed to encircle the building in a matter of hours. The gates, which fit together like toy Lincoln Logs, are to be stored in the basement.

Finally, Mr. Witkoff is using poured concrete instead of cinder block for the basement walls. And each basement mechanical room will be sealed with watertight submarine-style doors.

“This is the new normal,” said Adam Gordon, the president of Adam Gordon Holdings, which is building a condominium at 560 West 24th Street in Chelsea. “With two hurricanes in two years, this is the new base level for the way people should think about building in New York.”

Mr. Gordon’s Chelsea project will have a waterproof “concrete superstructure” from the basement to the second floor that has 13-foot floodgates; waterproofed rooms with submarine-style doors to protect mechanical and electrical systems; and a generator and a pumping system run on natural gas.

The floodgates are expected to cost Mr. Gordon roughly $100,000 — “not an insignificant cost, but not breathtaking.” He is still pricing the other waterproofing measures. The building, eight units averaging 3,300 square feet each with a ground-floor art gallery, is to be completed in spring 2014.

The developer Time Equities is rethinking the plans for its approximately 62-story condominium at 50 West Street. It is considering replacing a hotel with multilevel retail and, to make the building flood-resistant, moving the mechanical room onto the second or third floor. The developer is also looking at raising the sill height on the ground floor and using floodgates at the entrances.

After the storm, Time Equities hired the Albanese Organization, which built the Visionaire, the Verdesian and the Solaire in Battery Park City, to be its development manager.

“The Albanese Organization are the exact people to handle the project,” said Robert Singer, the director of development and acquisitions for Time Equities, “because Battery Park City was the only place that had electricity during the storm, while the rest of Lower Manhattan went dark.”

As for timing, “50 West Street is looking to expedite its design,” said Jack C. Becker, the executive vice president for design and construction of the Albanese Organization, “and we are hoping that by late spring or early summer to at least get the foundation started.”

Mr. Becker is looking at similar strategies for 111 Washington Street, a 50-story rental project on which Albanese is also advising. There, the electrical system is being moved to a higher floor from the basement, at an estimated cost of $850,000, Mr. Becker said.

Relocating basement mechanical systems means eliminating space on upper floors that could have been used for apartments or building amenities, said George Poniros, the assistant director of construction at Pink Stone Capital Group, the developer of 111 Washington. “It does cut into some of our sellable space,” he said, “but when people go to rent in our building they will know that we have taken these extra precautions, and it will give us an edge.”

Pre-existing buildings in the flood zone are also weighing their options. At Superior Ink, the condominium and town-house development in the West Village, the storm flooded the lobby and basement, and some mechanical systems were damaged by saltwater erosion. The residents, forced out of their apartments for more than 40 days, paid an assessment totaling $1 million in December so renovations could start immediately, without any wait for insurance proceeds.

The building is moving its electrical and mechanical systems to the second floor, to share space with the garage, and is considering installing a generator.

Superior Ink is rebuilding amenities in their below-ground sites, including the gym, the playroom, the residents’ lounge and the bike room. “It is almost a lucky accident since it provides us a rare opportunity to do over the common spaces the way the residents want them,” said Melanie Lazenby, an executive vice president of Douglas Elliman and a resident. Ms. Lazenby, who stayed with her mother on the Upper East Side for 42 days after the storm, said the lobby was already 70 percent rebuilt.

As for that $1 million assessment, “they anticipate we will be given the money back once the insurance money comes in,” Ms. Lazenby said.

Many affected buildings whose residents did not pay a special assessment are still waiting for their insurance proceeds. The development 88 Greenwich, across from Battery Park City, incurred basement flooding. The water dislodged an oil tank, which hit a ceiling beam and cracked open, necessitating a major cleanup.

“The building is now open again,” said Dan Wurtzel, the president of Cooper Square Realty, the condominium’s manager, “but the only thing currently on their radar is getting through the insurance process. It is going to take several months for this to be completed, and only then will they begin to confront the next question, which is what can they do to prevent this from recurring.”

Some pre-existing buildings are not taking any action at all. At 116 John Street, a 419-unit rental, the boiler and generator were fortunately already on the roof. But not so the electrical switchgear that controlled many other systems; it was damaged by floodwater.

“Our switchgear is in the basement and I don’t know how one can move that elsewhere,” said Nathan Berman, the principal of Metro Loft Management, the building landlord. “It is a matter of economics — I’m not sure too many developers would want to compromise lucrative space elsewhere in the building for a storm that was hopefully just a 25- or 50-year event.”

Some management companies that oversee buildings in the flood zone are thinking along the same lines.

“While buying a generator itself may not be that expensive,” Mr. Wurtzel said, “it is everything else — like connecting it to the various building systems that you want to run in case of a power failure, then securing a fuel supply by either running a natural-gas line or using diesel fuel — that can be costly and logistically complicated.

“I don’t want to say you are throwing your money away,” he continued, “but if your electrical mains that feed the building are in the basement, they are going to be damaged anyway, so it just may not be worth it.”

Paul Gottsegen, the Halstead Management Company’s president and management director, is advising buildings to “instead of retrofitting their mechanical areas, to concentrate more on preparedness.” The company’s emergency task force has come up with recommendations on when to evacuate buildings and other best practices.

The issue of where to put building systems remains a thorny one for many new buildings. The building code does not count basement space used for mechanical equipment in the square footage permitted by zoning. But if the mechanical room is on an upper floor, it is included in the square footage and thus impinges on sellable space, like apartments and amenities. And while in some cases the equipment can be moved to the roof, many buildings are subject to height restrictions.

“Builders want to be more resilient, but don’t want to be penalized by giving up space,” said Russell Unger, the executive director of the Urban Green Council. He is a member of a task force set up by the City Council and the mayor’s office to study ways to help buildings better prepare for extreme weather. Its findings will be published this summer.

“If you are in a flood zone, you cannot have your mechanicals in the basement,” said Donald A. Capoccia, the managing principal of the developer BFC Partners. “There are no two ways about it. The building codes have to change to reflect this new reality.”

Although builders across the city are only in the initial stages of figuring out how to build in a post-Sandy landscape, one thing is clear: “People are discussing spending billions of dollars for sea walls around the city or barrier islands, or even redesigning entire coastal communities,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect and an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

“But there are many simpler measures that builders can do quickly and relatively affordably. We should utilize these strategies first and foremost, and see where that takes us.”

By Design, Water in the Basement

The architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, in the Netherlands when Hurricane Sandy sent water crashing over riverbanks and into Manhattan, was inspired by what he saw.

“There, they do not fight the water,” said Mr. Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects and an associate professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, “but rather allow the lower level of buildings and parks to flood to retain the water, which is a much lower-cost strategy. This is not rocket science; places like the Netherlands and Venice have been dealing with this for centuries.”

One beneficiary of his trip may be a 350,000-square-foot retail and hotel project that he is designing for the Staten Island waterfront. In conjunction with the developer, BFC Partners, Mr. Chakrabarti is considering building the lower level of the complex’s three-floor parking garage to double as a giant water-retention tank capable of holding millions of gallons of floodwater.

“Our lowest point is eight feet above sea level,” said Donald A. Capoccia, the managing principal and founder of BFC, “so if you have a 13-foot surge, you would still get 5 feet of water on the site, so we have to plan for it.”

If a garage reservoir is built, Mr. Chakrabarti said, developers “should get some sort of zoning incentive, since it would help flood control not just at the development, but across the entire neighborhood.”

In Rural Minnesota, a 70-Acre Lab for Sustainable Living
January 11, 2013, 12:07 pm

Paul Hunt still remembers the dilemma that he and his wife, Lynn, faced in early January 2010 at their home in rural north-central Minnesota. The couple had just moved into their ultra-efficient house, on the outskirts of Pine River, population 944, but still lacked a thermostat and were about to go out of town for more than two days. It was bitterly cold, and an exterior sensor, one of the many dotting their house, suggested that the nighttime temperature would dip far below zero. Should they leave the heat on or turn it off?

As a former Minnesotan, I can say without hesitation that this is not a difficult midwinter decision for the average homeowner. Neither the Hunts nor their home are what you'd call typical, however. Their decision to leave the heat off - despite a low of 32 degrees below zero Fahrenheit on Jan. 2 - was vindicated upon their return home, when they found that their interior had remained a reasonably comfortable 66 degrees.

In the midst of Minnesota's scenic lake country, the Hunts have assembled an eclectic mix of buildings on a 70-acre campus, including their own airtight super-insulated house. A separate administrative building called Old Main, constructed from straw bales and adobe-like cob, features a dragon and hanging bats carved into one exterior wall and a bathroom festooned with Egyptian hieroglyphics. Nearby, a manufacturing space of nearly 14,000 square feet known as the ManiShop boasts a spacious built-in greenhouse and what may be the largest glazed hot air solar panel array in all of North America.

Within this laboratory of energy-efficient housing, the Hunt Utilities Group, or HUG, mixes high-tech ingenuity with homespun practicality and a touch of whimsy in its drive toward what Mrs. Hunt laughingly dubs "decadent sustainability."

She may have the immediate goal of luxuriating in a guilt-free solar panel-heated bath. But the company she started a dozen years ago with her husband is angling for a far bigger payoff. In the long-term, HUG hopes to construct homes that heat and cool themselves, feed their occupants and recycle all of the nutrients through integrated composting techniques.

If the end goal seems idealistic, the Hunts were cheerfully pragmatic during my recent visit to a campus that puts them within walking distance of Pine River's compact downtown. The company has grounded its expectations in the clear-eyed requirement that all methods must prove their mettle in Minnesota's often-brutal winters or be discarded. HUG's dozen or so employees have systematically experimented with heating and air exchange systems and windows, for example, and designed and built some of their own components when others aren't up to snuff.

The campus also houses two nonprofits: the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, which focuses on making solar power more accessible, and Happy Dancing Turtle, which promotes sustainable living through practical hands-on programs.

The like-minded tenants have all benefited from the technological wizardry of Mr. Hunt, who founded Hunt Technologies in the mid-80s and patented an ultra-narrow bandwidth communication system that allowed utilities to use devices called "turtles" to remotely read data from electric power meters at homes and businesses.

Borrowing a few ideas from that technology, Mr. Hunt has blanketed the Pine River campus with a data- measuring system dubbed HUGnet. "The whole place is a lab," he said during my visit. The system, which includes more than 1,000 sensors placed at strategic points on the buildings, collects parameters like temperature, wind speed, pressure and humidity every five to 15 minutes. "We need to know what works and what doesn't so the next design gets much better," Mr. Hunt said.

The data are publicly available on the Internet, meaning that anyone can track the temperature fluctuations beneath the Hunt's kitchen table, on the floor of their combination root cellar-storm shelter, or at the east end of their built-in greenhouse.

The Hunts stress that whatever ultimately emerges from their housing laboratory must be readily affordable while measuring up to their standards, and they have begun working with an architect to help design a culturally sensitive prototype for Indian reservations. Bob McLean, HUG's chief operating officer, said that the company also has been heavily involved in regional sustainability efforts, including the federally financed Central Minnesota Sustainable Development Plan.

The blessing of the Cass County Board of Commissioners, has been critical to HUG's success, Mrs. Hunt said. Before buying the property, the couple approached the county board for permission to bend or break some building and sewer codes so they could experiment with how to improve upon them. The county not only agreed, she said, but told her and her husband that they should do even more to break the rules.

Signs of the company's prolific experimentation are now everywhere on campus. The Hunts have tried out different types of solar panels and composting toilets, while a plus-size worm composting bin in the ManiShop's greenhouse allows the workers to recycle their lunch leftovers. Large methane digester tanks huddle in a corner of the Hunts' spacious garage for another research project on treating household sewage and using plants to filter the effluent.

Not satisfied with the insulating potential of existing window options, the company designed a double-window setup for the Hunts' home with a foot-wide sill separating the layers. In a rental duplex across campus, the company's construction manager, Dug Swanson, is overseeing a trial of multiple window designs that are getting a rigorous real-world tryout in winter weather. By applying the lessons learned in building an initial stand-alone rental unit next door, Mr. Swanson said, HUG was able to cut its per-square-foot construction costs by nearly half for the duplex.

The Hunts weren't shy about pointing out what materials and methods that didn't make their performance cut. Although clearly proud of their quirky administrative building, with its artistic flourishes, three-foot-thick walls and low energy consumption, they readily discussed the building's energy performance flaws. And the straw bale and cob technique, often a patience-trying labor of love, proved so work-intensive that they've ruled it out for their other construction projects.

Mrs. Hunt said the wind turbine near the main entrance makes a great calling card, but that the area's variable and generally modest winds have limited the turbine's contribution to overall energy production. And although the ManiShop boasts a no-maintenance green roof, the Hunts said they'll probably exclude that feature as well from future buildings. By including other design elements, they found, the green roof isn't needed to prevent heat loss or water runoff, while the structure required a massive support system to keep the ManiShop's roof from collapsing during a heavy snowfall.

Built-in south-facing greenhouses are a signature of HUG's design work. The lack of natural daylight in the winter months, though, has made the greenhouse in the ManiShop more suitable for ornamental plants than for produce. For now, the Hunts have been growing fruit and vegetables in a three-acre garden surrounded by an eight-foot-high deer fence, another requirement in Minnesota. The garden produced its first harvest this past summer and fall, distributed mainly among workers.

So far, HUG's heating systems have offered one of the clearest signs that the company is on the right track. Within the ManiShop, an air-exchange system directs the greenhouse's 95-degree air near the ceiling to the large array of solar panels. The panels warm the air to 140 degrees before pipes pull the heat into a giant underground battery formed by a 10-mile-long network of corrugated pipes buried in sand beneath the building's foundations.

The ManiShop, in particular, has scored particularly well on the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS, program, with a rating of 12 (more than eight times as efficient as a standard new home). The Hunts, though, have tailored their arguments for cost-conscious consumers. Mrs. Hunt told me proudly that the monthly cost to heat the 13,790-square foot building averages only $85.54, tax included.

And there are other wintertime considerations. "The element that you don't think about every time is, how fast does it pay back when your pipes don't freeze?" Mr. Hunt said. "And it's not an emergency if your heater fails or if the electricity goes out."

Last January was unusually mild, at least by Minnesota standards, and Mrs. Hunt rarely had to turn on her home's heat at all. "When I get cold, I let the grandchildren come over and play and they heat up the house," she said, with a smile.



Powerlines (underground)

Comparison of outages, underground v. overhead:  Utility Co.

Why aren't more powerlines underground?  From elsewhere, 2012

Insights on the future of fuel and power (Oct. 2012):  Christian Science Monitor

Local "power brokers" discuss power:  From e-paper, 2011

ENTERGY discusses the issue in 2008:  PROS AND CONS


Remember this story of citizen outcry winning (at least in Weston)?  345line.html

Power became a political issue locally in 2004:  power.htm

Power supply came to our attention in August of 2001:  powersupply.html

6 December 2012 Last updated at 00:37 ET
Suomi satellite pictures Earth in black
By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco

This spectacular night-time view of Earth is called Black Marble.

It has been assembled from a series of cloud-free images acquired by one of the most capable satellites in the sky today - the Suomi spacecraft.

The platform was launched by the US last year, principally to deliver critical meteorological data.  The Black Marble dataset shows off one of Suomi's key innovations: the low-light sensitivity of its VIIRS instrument.VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) can discern a range of phenomena of interest to weather forecasters - cloud, snow, fog, etc - even when the satellite is on the dark side of the Earth.

Most of the time, all VIIRS needs to do its work is some illumination from the Moon. But if that is not available, the instrument can still detect features down below just from the nocturnal glow of the atmosphere itself.

And, of course, just as this Black Marble rendition demonstrates, VIIRS is also very good at capturing the lights of our cities.  The new imagery was unveiled here at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.  Data from Suomi - a joint Nasa and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite - is certain to become a mainstay of future presentations at this conference.

VIIRS' trick is its special day-night band. Unlike a camera that captures a whole picture in one exposure, the day-night band produces an image by repeatedly scanning a scene and resolving it as millions of individual pixels.  The system then reviews the amount of light in each pixel. If it is very bright, a low-gain mode prevents the pixel from oversaturating; if the pixel is very dark, the signal is amplified.

US Air Force satellites have pushed the development of low-light sensors for decades but Nasa/Noaa representatives at the AGU meeting said VIIRS had taken the capability to a new level.  One of the instrument's most important observations of late was to watch Hurricane Sandy as it made landfall over the US in October.

Suomi was launched as the NPP (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project) satellite.

It was subsequently renamed in honour of the pioneering Earth observation scientist Verner E Suomi. The two-tonne, $1.5bn (£0.9bn) spacecraft circles the globe, pole to pole, at an altitude just over 800km.

Its five instruments are tasked with monitoring a huge range of land, ocean, and atmospheric phenomena - from the temperature and humidity of the air, to the spread of algal blooms in the ocean; and from the amount of sunlight bouncing off clouds to the extent of Arctic ice.

A Failed Experiment
November 21, 2012

In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn’t a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It’s a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.

In part, that’s a legacy of Hurricane Sandy. Such a system can cost well over $10,000, but many families are fed up with losing power again and again.

(A month ago, I would have written more snarkily about residential generators. But then we lost power for 12 days after Sandy — and that was our third extended power outage in four years. Now I’m feeling less snarky than jealous!)

More broadly, the lust for generators is a reflection of our antiquated electrical grid and failure to address climate change. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our grid, prone to bottlenecks and blackouts, a grade of D+ in 2009.

So Generac, a Wisconsin company that dominates the generator market, says it is running three shifts to meet surging demand. About 3 percent of stand-alone homes worth more than $100,000 in the country now have standby generators installed.

“Demand for generators has been overwhelming, and we are increasing our production levels,” Art Aiello, a spokesman for Generac, told me.

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.

But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.

The National Climatic Data Center has just reported that October was the 332nd month in a row of above-average global temperatures. As the environmental Web site Grist reported, that means that nobody younger than 27 has lived for a single month with colder-than-average global temperatures, yet climate change wasn’t even much of an issue in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, the World Economic Forum ranks American infrastructure 25th in the world, down from 8th in 2003-4, yet infrastructure is barely mentioned by politicians.

So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!

I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.

A wealthy friend of mine notes that we all pay for poverty in the end. The upfront way is to finance early childhood education for at-risk kids. The back-end way is to pay for prisons and private security guards. In cities with high economic inequality, such as New York and Los Angeles, more than 1 percent of all employees work as private security guards, according to census data.

This question of public goods hovers in the backdrop as we confront the “fiscal cliff” and seek to reach a deal based on a mix of higher revenues and reduced benefits. It’s true that we have a problem with rising entitlement spending, especially in health care. But I also wonder if we’ve reached the end of a failed half-century experiment in ever-lower tax rates for the wealthy.

Since the 1950s, the top federal income tax rate has fallen from 90 percent or more to 35 percent. Capital gains tax rates have been cut by more than half since the late 1970s. Financial tycoons now often pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

All this has coincided with the decline of some public services and the emergence of staggering levels of inequality (granted, other factors are also at work) such that the top 1 percent of Americans now have greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

Not even the hum of the most powerful private generator can disguise the failure of that long experiment.

From flooding maps from Nature Conservancy.
Shoreline infrastructure upgrades unlikely even after second storm in 14 months
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
November 19, 2012

Guilford -- On a damp, dreary post-Sandy, post-add-insult-to-injury snowstorm afternoon, Guilford Town Planner George Kral surveyed the intersection of state road 146, also called Leetes Island Road, and Sachem's Head Road.

"It floods at extreme high tides under normal conditions and it floods even more significantly during storms," he said, pointing to where 146 runs under a railroad bridge adjacent to a salt marsh. "During the recent Sandy, that road was closed under that bridge for several days because of the high water."

The high water there and elsewhere along the salt marshes that snake through town meant a number of neighborhoods were cut off from the rest of Guilford, leaving those who stayed in them at risk since first responders likely would be unable to reach them.

Guilford, like many shoreline communities, is painfully aware of the effects on infrastructure of increased incidents of severe weather coupled with the sea level rise apparent in Long Island Sound. But it's struggling with how to address recurring flooding and, more to the point after two devastating storms, Irene and Sandy, in 14 months -- how quickly.

"It's one thing to plan for sea level rise, clearly a long-term phenomenon," Kral said. "But increasing storm frequency, storm phenomenon is a little bit hard to get your arms around. When it's every few years, what do you do about it?"

Along the shoreline, Sandy threatened nearly a dozen electrical substations with flooding, closed several airports and miles of road because of high water, and risked power outages at a number of sewage treatment plants and dozens of pumping stations, which could have had catastrophic impacts on water quality in the Sound. But few, if any, communities or state departments seem compelled to make immediate widespread retrofits to infrastructure to prevent a recurrence in the next storm.

"There's no reason to react in a panic because of storms that we had," said Robert Smuts, New Haven's chief administrative officer and director of emergency management. "Reacting in a panic is just as ridiculous a reaction as pretending that the problem didn't exist beforehand."

That said, New Haven does plan to work with United Illuminating to upgrade the Mill River Substation, which had to be pumped out during Sandy. But the two areas that habitually flood, and did so in both Irene and Sandy -- the east shore area around Tweed Airport and the Long Wharf section from the Sound all the way to Union Station and its large rail yards -- will have to wait their turns.

"The list of the projects on my desk from three weeks ago is pretty similar to the list on my desk now," Smuts said.

Money is the biggest issue. The Department of Transportation has been brutally honest that its capital budget is geared to critical repair and upgrade needs, though climate change is beginning to be factored into how they are done. But for roads like Route 146, which floods in many places in Branford as well as Guilford, the DOT does not have the money to raise problematic sections, let alone the whole road.

"There is simply not enough to chase all the hardening that might be necessary for these larger storms," said Tom Harley, DOT's chief engineer, using terminology that refers to the resilience of structures.

And that means even at Sikorsky Airport, which was inundated during Sandy, an ongoing project to redo the road around it will take recurring flooding into consideration, but the airport itself will continue to suffer.

"Do I have x-millions of dollars to take the whole airport and bring it up 5 feet? Not likely," Harley said. "Are we simply going to fix the runways over the next 30 years every time water comes up? Yeah -- probably that's all I can do."

At the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Commissioner Dan Esty said there will be an effort to strenghthen or otherwise retrofit the electric grid components and sewage treatment plants that are considered the most vulnerable. But most everything else will focus on future projects.

"When we finance the upgrade of a sewage treatment plant we are moving the electronics that manage that infrastructure to a second-story location," Esty said. "When we fund a new sewage treatment plant as we have for Mattabassett, it is going to include elements of hardening in terms of what the design standards are.

"The truth is this involves billions of dollars of infrastructure, and you can't simply say we're going to redo it in a year or two."


The Nature Conservancy, through its mapping tool called Coastal Resilience -- which charts the impacts from sea level rise and/or storms -- predicts that if a Category 3 storm similar to the Hurricane of 1938 were to occur now in Connecticut, it would flood 645 miles of roads, 131 miles of railroad track, five rail stations, 10 airports and 13 wastewater treatment plants.

Adam Whelchel, the director of science for the Conservancy in Connecticut, said the kinds of infrastructure projects that would address climate issues like these can take decades of planning and construction, which begs the question of what, if anything, to do now.

"It's a really fair question," he said. "One of the things working against us in terms of coming up with something meaningful for infrastructure, we are all these municipalities. If we're going to solve this, it has to be collectively."

And more than a few people think the state has to take the lead role. But that's tricky, said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a member of the Energy and Transportation committees and a member of the Shoreline Preservation Task Force, created after Irene to look at a range of climate change issues along the Sound.

"So much of what we've learned is that action needs to take place on a municipal level," he said. "It's a lot to ask many municipalities to make these kind of investments."

On the other hand, he said, state-ordered infrastructure and other climate-related work "almost comes across as a giant unfunded mandate.

"I think if we set up public-private partnerships, which seem to be part of the new mantra going forward whereby the onus is not totally on the government, we can find ways to work collaboratively."

But he and others cautioned against hasty actions.

"We don't want to make investments in the short term that will be jeopardized over a medium or longer term," said Kral, who in Guilford also faces the prospect that unchecked flooding threatens to turn his town's salt marshes into standing water, hampering their ability to do what salt marshes are supposed to do -- act as sponges and barriers during storms.

There is also the matter of a small waterside substation that could be in jeopardy. And with all properties on septic systems, increased flooding raises the specter of untreated sewage leaching into the Sound. The train station and most track areas seem safe, Kral said, but flooding could mean many people couldn't actually get to the station.

"The thing is that sea level rise and flooding and related issues are all so very complex, we don't want to do something in an area where we haven't done enough research," said Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, who created and heads the Shoreline Preservation Task Force and whose district, slammed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, sustained less damage during Sandy. "We want to take a holistic and pragmatic approach that doesn't cause more harm in the future."

Whatever the solution, many pointed out that officials of all sorts should not let the crisis that was Sandy go to waste.

"There is an opportunity while this is fresh in people's minds to start paying greater attention to it," said Steve Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. And that also means exploring ways for taxpayers to pay for the infrastructure upgrades that will keep them from losing power and mobility in the next big storm.

"But amnesia is one of the main characteristics of politics," he said. "And it's important for the political leadership to take advantage of this teachable moment because it's not going to last for very long."

As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why
November 18, 2012

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — Even in the off season, the pastel beach houses lining a skinny strip of sand here are a testament to the good life.  They are also a monument to the generosity of the federal government.

The western end of this Gulf Coast island has proved to be one of the most hazardous places in the country for waterfront property. Since 1979, nearly a dozen hurricanes and large storms have rolled in and knocked down houses, chewed up sewers and water pipes and hurled sand onto the roads.  Yet time and again, checks from Washington have allowed the town to put itself back together.

Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy — an amount that could exceed $30 billion — will be used the same way.

Tax money will go toward putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane...full story here.

Economix - Explaining the Science of Everyday Life

America’s Mid-20th-Century Infrastructure
November 16, 2012, 6:00 am

Europeans visiting the Northeastern United States - and many parts of the East Coast -- can show their children what Europe's infrastructure looked like during the 1960s.

In New York, they can take taxis bumping over streets marked by potholes. European children might find it funny. They can descend into a dingy and grimy underground world to ride New York City's quaint and screeching subway system, if they can figure out where trains go.

They can take the children for a ride with Amtrak from New York to the nation's capital, giggling as the train slowly heaves and rolls, often in fits and starts, along the rickety tracks. Passengers can be heard joking that the Navy trains its sailors on this railway system, because anyone who can make it through two or three cars without bumping into seated passengers or spilling food on them is fit to go to sea.

If they departed from Pennsylvania Station in New York, they would not have known until 5 to 10 minutes before departure from which track the train would leave. And it might not leave on time. In their home country, the children would have learned that the track from which a train departs is printed in the train schedule. It is the same every day.

At Pennsylvania Station, hundreds of passengers wait in suspense for the announcement of the track and dash to it in a mad rush, running along the train in a frantic search for a seat. In Europe, one would have booked a seat in a rail car that stops at a spot shown on a poster on the track.

Unlike Europe or Asia, where trains typically adhere to the minute to scheduled times, the departure times in Amtrak's schedules merely represent a promise that the train will not leave before then. The actual getaway might be many minutes or even more than an hour after the scheduled departure time, with any of dozens of different excuses offered. Brakes on the train stuck. Signal switches malfunctioned. Electricity was not available to the train for some reason. A train ahead, on the same track, broke down. And so on.

Arriving at a destination on time, something Europeans take largely for granted, is relatively rare on Amtrak. Furthermore, the train in Europe or Asia is likely to have traveled at much higher speed. The tracks there are so smooth that one could easily carry an open cup of coffee along several cars or work on the computer.

Why and how Americans, who pride themselves on being fussy consumers, have put up with this mid-20th-century rail system is a mystery.

Even more wondrous than the archaic subway and rail system and the potholes in the streets is the system of distributing electric power to households and factories in large parts of the Northeastern United States. Power is often still carried on lines that hang in graceful catenaries of various depths from poles that lean left or right randomly but rarely stand straight. And which are vulnerable to powerful storms, like Hurricane Sandy.

When a German high-school classmate visited me, we came upon the intersection below, less than a mile from the center of Princeton, N.J. My friend burst out laughing at the abundance of wires in every direction, something he had seen only on his travels to the developing world.

In my youth, electric power in Germany's countryside, where I grew up, was carried on power lines strung from very tall and straight poles. But for decades now, power lines have been buried underground in Germany and most of the rest of Europe.

Malte Lehming, opinion-page editor of the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel, noted in his essay "Welcome to America. Take a Number" in The New York Times:

    I spent half a day hunting for a store with flashlights in stock, because a storm had knocked out our power. In five decades in Germany I have never experienced a single power failure, because the power lines are usually underground and well maintained.

Imagine that - life without power failures! In much of the Northeastern United States - and perhaps in many other parts of the country as well - lengthy power disruptions are part of the American way of life. In Princeton, they occur somewhere in the township after almost every thunderstorm or snowstorm, as branches snap from trees and take down vulnerable power lines.

Last fall, for example, after a brief storm dumped wet snow on trees, many parts of New Jersey, Princeton included, were without power for about a week. Parts of Connecticut were without power for more than two weeks.

In 1958, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith drew attention to America's neglect of its infrastructure in his famous book, "The Affluent Society." Alas, his call for a better balance between private and public infrastructure has gone largely unheeded in this country in the ensuing half-century.

Our country reminds me of the old tale of a frog that allowed itself to be cooked to death after it was put in a pan of cold water that was very gradually heated to the boiling point. Although apparently there is no scientific basis for that tale -- biologists say the frog would jump out -- we do seem to act like that frog, as our infrastructure ever-so-gradually steadily decays around us.

Instead of setting about to bring our infrastructure up to 21st-century standards - which might, alas, involve more of the much detested public-sector investment -- we angrily and yet meekly suffer for days or weeks without light, heat and transportation, verbally shaking our fists at the power companies but leaving it at that.

We are, at most, prepared to stock our households with flashlights and candles and, if we have the money, buy portable generators that can produce a modest amount of electricity, albeit at great expense. How can this be an efficient way of bringing electric power to households?

In so many ways the United States is a great country. The American people are innovative and hard-working, more so than most Europeans. It amazes me that they put up so fatalistically with this old-fashioned and decaying infrastructure.

Uwe E. Reinhardt is an economics professor at Princeton.

From the I-BBC

Quinn: Run overhead power lines underground

New York Post
Last Updated: 3:48 PM, November 13, 2012
Posted: 3:45 PM, November 13, 2012

Forcing utilities to bury overhead lines is one of the more eye-catching – and expensive – suggestions City Council Speaker Christine Quinn put forth in a half policy, half campaign speech yesterday morning.

Quinn, a likely candidate for mayor next year, delivered a lengthy speech on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when she addressed the pro-business group Association for a Better New York. Her ideas would cost about $20 billion, she said.

She indicated she would use the Council’s authority to force Con Edison and other state-run utilities to put certain power lines underground to prevent major outages in future storms, though her staff later said it was unclear which lines would be included n the proposal or whether she will, in fact, propose such legislation.

Mayor Bloomberg, who would have to approve such a bill, said “I don’t know where the money would come from – buried wires are a very expensive thing.”

Quinn is also pressing Mayor Bloomberg and the Army Corps of Engineers to study whether to build storm surge barriers to protect flood-prone areas, like the Rockaways and sections of Staten Island.

"Clearly we need to strengthen our infrastructure to prepare us for the effects of climate change, particularly as we rebuild in areas devastated by Sandy," she said.

Bloomberg later replied, “It would take billions and billions of dollars. … You’d be doing it from the Florida Keys to the Northern edge of Maine. And building a barrier along the whole Atlantic Coast is not something even science could handle, much less the finances of our government.”

Meanwhile the City Council yesterday approved the $500 million budget modification to allocate funds for emergency repairs to schools and hospitals in the wake of Sandy.

Root cause: Tree Board aims to revive role, programs
Jarret Liotta, Westport News
Updated 9:05 am, Saturday, February 16, 2013

Westport's Tree Board, hoping to plant the seeds of renewal for its role in town government, is looking for help.

"We're trying to revitalize the Tree Board," Pamela Klomberg, the chairwoman of the board, which now has only three members, said at Friday's meeting of the panel.

Klomberg currently serves on a state task force appointed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, the purpose of which she said "is to develop templates for municipalities to manage their urban forests."

Following the severe storms of the last few years, questions of tree liability and management have prompted state officials to consider options and ideas about maintaining both forested lands and trees in developed areas, many of which may be implemented by local governments.

"We represent a municipality that is not yet, doesn't yet, have a cohesive urban forest management plan," Klomberg said.

"Are these things the town wants?" she said. "We don't know, but I think that our task is to suggest and recommend best practices."

Westport now allocates enough funding to pay for a tree warden's services only one day a week. Money is also limited for the monitoring, removal, planting, maintenance and pruning of trees. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff's proposed budget for 2013-14, however, includes a $170,000 to create a full-time tree warden position and to increase the town's overall tree work.

The two other board members -- Judy James and Tracey Hammer -- are focusing on websites and social media to spread the word about the board and its mission.

"It's an opportunity to get our story out -- what we're doing, engage participation," Klomberg said. "And we have a partner that is willing to help us do this (computer) work."

Klomberg said volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, including networking, outreach, education and, potentially, political action.

"We have been a town historically of removal," said John Broadbin, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, "with a one day per week part time tree warden.

He said his department wants additional funds for more tree cutting, stump grinding, replanting and pruning.

Klomberg said she is "very hopeful" the Board of Finance will approve the preliminary budget, with the additional money for tree work and personnel, at its March 6 meeting.

Klomberg would also like to see the Westport Tree Board get involved with a May tree festival in Norwalk.

"Norwalk has a number of organizations that collaborate with the Department of Public Works in their urban forest initiatives," she said. "I attended last year and was really impressed with the exhibitors and opportunities for public education."

This year, she said, Norwalk is inviting surrounding towns to participate in the free event.

"Westport has the opportunity to take a table ... and we can do whatever we like with that table," Klomberg said. "I think it's a really great opportunity for us to engage the public and educate Westport residents.


Redding PILOT
By Susan Wolf on November 15, 2012 - adapted for Weston FORUM

New England would not be New England without its trees, nor would Weston be the town it is today if its landscape were only sparsely dotted by trees.

Trees are not the villains in the latest round of power outages besieging the area — blame Mother Nature for that. They do, however, need to be managed better.

But it’s not just the town — nor just the state, the federal government, nor CL&P — that needs to do the managing. There needs to be an appropriate balance among those responsible for trees in the town.

The town only deals with trees on its property; CL&P takes care of tree trimming and cutting with regard to its utility lines and residents are responsible for the trees on their properties.

No one wants another layer of bureaucracy when it comes to trees, but a program needs to be developed — and one was talked about in the state legislature last year — to encourage property owners to pay more attention to trees on their property, especially those near their homes and adjacent to town or state roadways. The town can verbalize an over-arching philosophy on tree management, but it’s individual residents who will make the most difference by doing something about it.

If CL&P wants to cut down or trim a tree on private property and the homeowner resists, who should be responsible for the damage caused if the tree or its limbs fall on electric wires? Or on a car? Or a passing pedestrian or bicycle rider?

Homeowners, like the town and CL&P, have a responsibility to have a licensed arborist inspect suspect trees, and to take care of them, even if it means paying to cut them down or trim them.

The town highway department and CL&P have tree management plans, but more is needed. Some municipalities actually have a plan in place that would help the town and its property owners decide what kinds of trees are better suited near a roadside, or under a power line or near a home. So when a tree dies or is damaged by disease or wind, there is a resource in place to help decide what should be planted in its place.

To cut down trees willy nilly because they are under a power line or near a road seems to go too far. Trees are beautiful and have many advantages. Keeping these trees healthy and replacing them with more appropriate trees when needed just makes more sense.

Putting all power lines underground, as some have proposed, may be a partial solution years down the road, but it is unrealistic to think this would happen in the near future. There is merit to looking to more undergrounding as new lines are needed or as lines are being replaced — but even underground cables do not ensure no power outages.

There is only so much that can be done to catch trees before they or their limbs fall. High winds and storms are not going away, but better preparations can be made, not only from the standpoint of managing trees but also from the standpoint of people being better prepared when there are outages.

Tree debris: Weston deals with familiar post-storm dilemma

Weston FORUM
By Kimberly Donnelly on November 15, 2012

A freak warm-weather storm with hurricane-force winds followed by an early fall snowstorm; blocked roads and extended power outages; comfort stations, charging stations, and more than a week of school cancellations. As Yogi Berra said, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Now that the immediate crisis has passed in Weston — roads are clear, electricity, heat, water, phones, Internet and cable are restored, snow is melted, school is back in session — Westonites are once again dealing with a familiar aftermath to the storm damage: trees.

“Unfortunately, the same thing that makes Weston beautiful and bucolic — the reason many of us want to live here — is also what causes us such problems,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.

Superstorm Sandy took down thousands of branches and trees when it slammed into the northeastern seaboard and plowed its way through Weston. There were more than 220 road blockages caused by felled trees, and hundreds more cases of property damage. And, of course, there was again the problem of trees tangled in utility wires.


But unlike last year, this year blame for power outages and road closures couldn’t necessarily be placed on trees that were “too close” to power lines, or those that were weighted down by a combination of leaves and snow.

Sean McNamara, neighboring Redding’s tree warden (Weston has yet to fill its tree warden position), said the difference between Sandy and the October snowstorm in 2011 was the type of trees that fell.

Most of the damage from Sandy was to evergreen trees (spruce and pine), he said. “They took the brunt of the storm. Last year, it was oak trees.”

Oak trees tend to hold on to leaves longer into the season, so last year when it snowed in October, the weight brought down trees, he said.

“This year, we had the hurricane and the leaves blew off with the wind, but the wind caused evergreens to fall because they are resisting the wind and those are the types that came down with this hurricane,” he said.

This October was also a wet one, which is why a lot of trees were uprooted, Mr. McNamara said.

First Selectman Weinstein was on site with tree crews at scores of downed tree locations across town the past few weeks. What she noticed was that most of what fell were tall, healthy pine trees.

Also notable was how wide but shallow the root systems were on many of the downed pine trees. “Part of it, I have heard, is in Weston there is so much rock ledge that’s relatively close to the surface, so the trees can’t be rooted as deeply as they might otherwise,” Ms. Weinstein said.

As aggressive as the town, the state, and Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) have been the last year in trimming trees near power lines and roads, Ms. Weinstein said with Sandy, it didn’t really matter. Much of the damage was caused by trees that were healthy and not necessarily close to power lines or houses.

Tree maintenance efforts focus on trying to prevent “average outages,” which most often are caused by squirrels in transformers or branches knocking into power lines, she said. “You can’t remove every tree within 50 feet” of power lines, roads or houses, or there would be no trees left in town, she said.


As they did in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and the October nor’easter in 2011, Westonites post-Sandy are again left asking, Who is responsible for cleaning up the mess left by Mother Nature?

What residents discovered last year still holds true: Determining just whose property a given tree is on — and therefore who is responsible for cleaning it up if it falls — is not as cut and dried as it might seem.

Roads (other than state or private roads) are obviously town property. But so is an area on the side of the road — the town right-of-way — along the edge of what is usually someone’s yard.

But according to John Conte, the town engineer, there is no set measurement used to determine the town right-of-way for every road in town, such as a certain number of feet from the center line or from the edge of the pavement. Instead, the town relies on survey maps on file; anything within the private property line is the landowner’s responsibility; anything on the other side of the line is the town’s.

But many trees and all power lines lie within CL&P easements, which are conveyed to CL&P by the state legislature. Regardless of where a tree trunk is rooted, once branches encroach on CL&P easements — once they get close to the wires — they become the jurisdiction of CL&P and neither the town nor private property owners may do tree work in those areas.

Who cleans it up?

When it comes to trees that do come down, several scenarios are possible:

• A tree is on town property and falls on town property. The town cleans it up.

• A tree is on town property and it falls on both town property and private property. The town clears up to the town/private property line. The property owner is responsible for anything that lands on his property. Sometimes, the town will clear town trees that land on private property, although it is not obligated to do so.

• A tree is on private property and it falls on private property. It is the property owner’s responsibility.

• A tree is on private property and falls on both private and town property. The town clears only what is on town property; the land owner is responsible for the rest.

• A tree is on private property and falls causing damage or injuries. The property owner is liable for damage.

• A tree is on town property and falls causing damage or injuries. The town is liable for damage.

Debris removal

Residents are reminded not to leave branches and other debris from their property on the side of the road — the town will not be picking it up.

The town contracted with a company to pick up its tree debris from roadsides, and the state did the same along the state roads that run through town (routes 57 and 53).

Residents, however, are responsible for removing their own tree debris. Thanks to temporary authorization from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the town transfer station accepted debris for no charge for two and a half weeks after the storm, until yesterday, Nov. 14.

Now, however, residents must either store debris on their own property or have it removed privately.

Hersam Acorn reporter Kaitlin Bradshaw contributed to this story.

Coastal management legislation balances environmental concerns with property rights
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
May 9, 2012

In Connecticut's post-storms legislative world, most of the focus has been on how to make sure power outages like the ones the state suffered in August and October never happen again.

But for communities along the shoreline, where some buildings are still in disrepair, seawalls remain crumpled and some landscapes were altered permanently by Tropical Storm Irene, how quickly the lights come back on may be secondary when homes and businesses are flooded or even destroyed, and beachfront property is washed away.  Legislation to protect the shoreline from such ravages of future storms, as well as the compounding impact of sea level rise, has passed the General Assembly.

While it stops far short of a list of mandates, it does represent a sea-change -- so to speak -- in what the state considers necessary to manage the shoreline in light of a changing environment and, generally, more concern about it.  For the first time in Connecticut, sea level rise is specifically mentioned among the criteria for coastal planning, and it is to be considered in the revision later this year to the state's Plan of Conservation and Development.

"I think the fact that sea level rise is being mentioned in statute is an important first step," said Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, whose community was especially hard-hit, and who has taken a leading role in shoreline issues, including chairing the recently created Shoreline Preservation Task Force.

The legislation takes another bold philosophical step in specifically calling for minimizing "shoreline armoring." In other words -- seawalls.

The case against seawalls

After Irene, local, state and federal officials repeatedly called for more seawalls to better protect shoreline property. At the same time, scientists largely warned against such efforts. Many shoreline geology experts noted that seawalls typically magnify wave action, causing "scouring," a digging out of areas beneath walls, which makes the waves even bigger, causing even more erosion. And they noted that sea level rise would make those waves bigger still.

The legislation spells out specific "feasible, less environmentally damaging alternatives" to classic shoreline armoring. Those listed include moving inhabited structures farther from the water, raising them, restoring or creating dunes and employing any of a number of techniques under the category of "living shorelines."

That could include tidal wetland vegetation, salt marsh restoration, sand fill and other types of natural means to disperse or absorb water. It's a concept supporters say has proven successful in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere.  Communities are not forced to approve such methods, but the legislation essentially enables them to if they so choose.

"It's a proactive offensive approach rather than the defense armoring," Albis said. "We want to make sure more people are aware of different options.

"We're really doing some revolutionary stuff here."

But it took a somewhat Herculean bipartisan effort to get to that point.  Several bills were incorporated into the final version; most notably two -- one from the House, one from the Senate -- that were about as polarizing as they come.

A Republican-backed bill was blasted by environmentalists who felt it would force communities to approve virtually all armoring proposals like seawalls. And environmentalists backed another that incensed more than a few legislators and others with this language:

"To encourage a fair and orderly legal process to foster strategic retreat of property ownership, over a period of several decades, for coastal lands that have a likelihood of being lost due to erosion and coastal lands that contain structures that are subject to repetitive damage."

Intense negotiations resulted in an almost entirely new bill with a first line that asserts "the rights of private property owners."

"I think it's a lot better bill in many regards," said Sen. Len Fasano, a Republican who not only represents East Haven, but also owns a house and a beach club there; the latter sustained serious damage in Irene. He had backed the Republican bill.

"This opens it up to whole new ways to protect the shoreline; it's kind of cool," said Fasano who admitted he was intrigued by some of the living shoreline techniques for his own property. "I'm definitely going take a look at it."

A compromise

Most credit Fasano and David Sutherland, director of government relations for the Connecticut office of the Nature Conservancy, with forging the compromise, and each man has nothing but accolades for the other now.  But Sutherland chose his words carefully and disputed that his group's goals may have fallen short. "Not at this point," he said. "We don't live in a pure ecological world. We live in a world with a lot of different factors we need to take into account.

"It was a compromise," he said. "The bill is an accurate reflection and a very appropriate bill for where we're all at right now."

Among its other critical points, the legislation redefines the "high tide line" as a "coastal jurisdiction line" that is more predictable than the actual tide line. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection retains jurisdiction for structures on the water side of it. Municipalities oversee those on the land side.

In both cases, if an application for a flood or erosion control structure is denied, the legislation would now require DEEP or the local government to provide the applicant with less environmentally damaging alternatives to consider.

Under current law, seawall building is restricted to the replacement of existing ones and new ones around critical infrastructure and inhabited structures built before 1980. Those categories are expanded in the legislation to include inhabited structures built as recently as 1995 and cemeteries.  The bill also includes establishment of a pilot program to explore innovative approaches to coastal management, calls for a shoreline management study and authorizes academic institutions to develop science and engineering programs to support coastal management.

At this point there are no full-throated objections to the legislation. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities had opposed earlier versions that it thought tied the hands of local government.

"It certainly has been modified, and we appreciate the efforts made," said Kachina Walsh-Weaver, CCM's senior legislative associate, who said that officially CCM does not support the legislation. "Our basic concerns with the bill is how it will play out over time."

The Connecticut Marine Trades Association, which represents about 300 marinas and boatyards, had also been concerned about earlier versions, and specifically the private property threat.

"I'm cautiously optimistic with changes that have been made," said Grant Westerson, the association president. "Am I in love with it? No. But enough changes have been made in the bill that we can deal with it."

Westerson and others noted that the new shoreline task force, as well as the recently created Long Island Sound Caucus, would provide opportunities to work on many thorny coastal management issues in a way that complements the legislation.

"This bill came out so fast," he said. "Why are we doing this now? We've got a task force that's been appointed. Let them do their job and see what comes out."

Which is exactly what Albis intends to do, eventually picking up the difficult issue of whether to continue to rebuild in flood-prone areas.

"While there is a lot of work to do, I'm happy that the task force has time to look at other solutions," he said. "The legislation provides a springboard."