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CT Coastal Watch: Will Natural Barriers Do Their Job in Hurricane?

October 29, 2012

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Connecticut's population joins an estimated 50 million people today along the East Coast who are being threatened by Hurricane Sandy, with warnings issued for a life-threatening storm surge.

Environmental experts say that for coastal communities a lot is riding on the health of natural barriers. Nate Woiwode, marine and coastal policy adviser with the Nature Conservancy on Long Island, says beaches and salt marshes shield coastal areas from the worst impacts of storm surge. He says community planning that protects these natural barriers pays off big-time during high-intensity weather events.

"It isn't just for nature's sake, but it is really for the communities that rely on them. As storms like this come in, when those resources are healthy, the communities are safer. When the resources are degraded, the communities are in greater danger."

Woiwode says all indications are that Sandy will be far more than just a coastal event. The storm is expected to spread flood damage from swollen rivers and heavy rainfall well inland, throughout New England.

He says long-range planning is what's needed, and he credits Connecticut lawmakers with taking action after Hurricane Irene in August last year, by crafting a Shoreline Coastal Management Act (SB 376) to deal with shoreline flood and erosion control.

"Connecticut looked at what was going on and went ahead and started advocating for a new law, and a new approach to dealing with their coast."

Woiwode says the challenge is even more daunting as these late-season storms now appear to be happening with greater frequency.

"Even though it's been a year, or just over a year, since Irene came through - and that feels like a long time to some people - these storms are so close to each other that it's actually hard for a community to have done a lot."

Governor Dannel Malloy fully activated the state's Emergency Response Operations Center on Sunday.

See Connecticut's SB 376 at www.cga.ct.gov.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - CT