Stamford, Connecticut

Left: Mill River during flooding in 2007. Right: the river in 2013, after the dam was removed, the riparian areas restored, and the floodplain embraced with Mill River Park. (Courtesy City of Stamford)

Three-Part Approach Works with CRS for Stamford, Connecticut

“Higher regulatory standards, open space preservation, and public outreach are the heart of our City Flood Program,” says Richard Talamelli, Environmental Planner for Stamford, Connecticut. “And the Community Rating System has been right in there with all three aspects of it.”

Being a CRS Class 7 community brings about $350,000 in premium savings each year for the community’s 2,700 policyholders. “This is a huge driving force behind the community’s participation in the CRS,” Talamelli notes.

Stamford stretches over 52 squares miles (including a fair amount of water) between the New York state line and Long Island Sound. With three major rivers and 18 miles of coastal waterfront, it is subject to both riverine and coastal flooding and counts about 4,800 properties in its identified flood hazard areas. Its 126,000 residents form one of the most highly educated cities in the United States.

Higher Regulatory Standards

“We’re very regulatory conscious, and we have to be,” explains Talamelli, “largely because of the density of our population.” The Flood Program is managed by the City’s Environmental Board, a regulatory agency that also oversees the wetlands and coastal programs. All of these programs have an array of strict federal, state, and local regulations.

Of course, “the CRS is not regulatory,” adds Talamelli, “but it brings tangibles, especially in the form of premium reductions, that give us support for our Flood Program.” One positive aspect of the CRS has been the creation of an “atmosphere of proactive flood loss reduction.”

“Our strength is that we have strong and enforceable standards and it is the CRS that encouraged us to take these to a higher level, both by providing credit points and by providing a template for reaching higher,” Talamelli says. Stamford has freeboard requirements, applies rules to protect its critical facilities and dangerous materials, enforces strict building codes, and requires that substantial improvement thresholds be calculated cumulatively.

“In conjunction with this,” Talamelli adds, “the CRS makes you document everything. This is a very strong element of the program. It makes you more aware of what you are doing and what you should be doing.”

Preserving Open Space

Open space preservation is an important focus for this urbanized community. The community has had some success in removing flood prone properties and keeping the land as green space. “We were doing some of it already, but the CRS definitely made us be more aggressive in our efforts,” Talamelli says. Many of the city’s open space areas are protected with easements and conservation agreements.

One huge open space effort has been the Mill River Park, a three-mile greenway along the riparian corridor to Stamford Harbor that incorporates natural areas and recreation opportunities and also is acting as a catalyst for residential and commercial development in the heart of the city. In collaboration with numerous public and private entities, Stamford created about 20 acres of new open space and restored many more.

The plan for the park was included in the Stamford Master Plan, a new Mill River Zoning District was created, and capital accounts were established for acquiring property and contracting for the design and park development. Private capital was raised by the Mill River Park Collaborative, and the City used tax increment financing for its share of the funding.

Beginning in 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied how the restoration of local ecosystems could be accomplished, and subsequently endorsed the removal of the historic Mill River Dam. Without the dam, a natural stream channel and wetland habitats were restored.

“All of those things we did together reduced the flood risk substantially … and the containment capacity of the floodplain is greater,” said Milton Puryear, former Executive Director of the Mill River Park Collaborative in a newspaper article last year.

The result is an award-winning, 30-acre urban park that is a highlight of the city center. Invasive vegetation has been removed and native woodland, riparian, and meadow species restored, attracting birds, insects, and mammals. Without the dam, anadromous herrings and eels have returned. Public access to the river has been rejuvenated, and the open space reduces the amount of development that is vulnerable to flood damage, earning CRS credit for Stamford.

Outreach

Outreach is crucial to Stamford’s Flood Program because, as Talamelli notes, “Everybody needs a sound and clear explanation of what we do. Most people want to do the right thing and the more familiar they are with the program, the more accepting they are.” People are encouraged to come into the office and visit with the staff.

“With CRS guidance, our outreach projects have become more motivational and reached a broader audience,” Talamelli says. The city produces publications about flood insurance, property protection, preparedness, and where to get more information. Not only is the information housed in the city’s libraries and website, but also it is distributed widely. A brochure is mailed once a year to all 4,700 floodprone households and a different pamphlet is sent to owners of all the repetitive loss properties. Speaking engagements at various professional organizations, such as the Board of Realtors®, are a regular occurrence.

“Whenever the opportunity arises, we go into the schools with our information and this makes a big impact on the students,” says Talamelli.

In closing, Talamelli notes, “We were doing many flood mitigation activities before, but never to the level that we achieved since the CRS. Joining the CRS has been a huge step forward for us.”

The Highways Department gives Stamford school children a demonstration of the City’s procedure for cleaning the catch basins of its drainage system. (Courtesy City of Stamford)

Editor’s Note: This is just a glimpse of the many floodplain management approaches implemented by Stamford. For more, see the city’s website.

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