U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., is urging the state's public safety brass to reconsider $18 million in storm aid requests -- submitted by shoreline property owners seeking to move their homes to higher ground -- that were denied last week.
The state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection turned down all 94 applications it received to elevate homes in the coastal flood plain, prioritizing projects to harden municipal infrastructure such as seawalls, levees, bridges and sewer treatment plants instead.
The decision, first reported by Hearst Connecticut Media, sparked an outcry from residents and elected officials in coastal communities ravaged by Superstorm Sandy that Himes represents.
"Their point of view is that citizens should be served first, before municipal infrastructure," Himes told Hearst Wednesday. "I think it's important for the committee to take that into account."
Himes' call for the state to take another look at its funding criteria comes just days after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered the committee in charge of the disbursements to reconvene.
"I further direct you to continue to work with the Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein and municipal leaders to reconsider homeowner applications immediately to address the needs of any individuals who have been unable to re-occupy their homes in the wake of Superstorm Sandy because of lack of mitigation funds as well as to provide them assistance regarding other sources of funding," Malloy wrote on Jan. 31 to William Shea, a deputy commissioner of emergency services.
A request for comment was left Wednesday for the state's public safety agency.
The competition for hazard mitigation funds has been characterized by the state as fierce, with $45.1 million in proposed infrastructure work representing the bulk of $81.6 million in total requests. The total pot of money available is $16.6 million.
Milford had the most applicants with 28, followed by Greenwich with 27 and Fairfield with 25.
A seawall project to protect Seaside Park in Bridgeport remains in contention for funds, as well as planned improvements to the Beaver Brook wastewater treatment plant in Milford and a levee upgrade for Fairfield.
State public safety officials defended their funding criteria last week, saying there are at least two other avenues for residents to move their homes out of harm's way with public assistance, including a Shoreline Resiliency Fund announced by Malloy on the first anniversary of Sandy.
In late 2013, Malloy's administration secured $2 million in seed money for the Shoreline Resiliency Fund, a low-interest loan program that some in state government say could grow to $25 million.
Himes, who lives on a tributary of Long Island Sound himself, said many coastal property owners were under the impression that they would qualify for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and spent significant sums of money preparing their applications.
Generally speaking, Himes said he understands the misgivings of some taxpayers who object to paying to elevate homes, but he said that the recent onslaught of storms has created a hardship for many of his constituents who live on the shoreline.
"In the long run, taxpayers should not be subsidizing coastal living," Himes said. "But the weather is changing dramatically and quickly, so people are experiencing things that they didn't necessarily buy into when they purchased their homes. In the meantime, we've got people who are suffering quite intensely."
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