NEW LONDON — Connecticut is creating a new, low-interest revolving loan fund to help homeowners and businesses along the shoreline elevate and flood-proof their structures, part of an effort to better prepare for severe weather and help homeowners facing massive flood insurance premium increases if they don’t elevate their properties.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday that $2 million in Department of Energy and Environmental Protection funds has initially been set aside for the new program. Malloy said he plans to ask the General Assembly to approve an additional $25 million when lawmakers return in February, but acknowledged more money may be needed. Loans will range from $100,000 to $300,000.
“Our coast has changed and our expectation for damage has changed greatly and this is not going to be a one-year effort,” the Democrat said during a news conference in the coastal city of New London on the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the state. “This is going to be a multi-year effort, not simply to recover from [Hurricane] Irene and the Superstorm Sandy, but really to get ready for other storms that we anticipate. So it’s an ongoing effort.”
It’s unclear how many structures in Connecticut could be eligible for funding. Loans would range from $100,000 to $300,000. Unlike some of the federal assistance programs, there is no income cap for applicants. While some details of the program are still being finalized, eligible structures must be subject to coastal flooding in certain zones defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The funding can be used to elevate or secondary and primary single family homes, and one- to four-unit owner-occupied rentals or businesses.
The most positive thing Malloy could do to help people is to streamline DEEP’s permitting and decision-making processes, said state Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, a member of the legislature’s Shoreline Preservation Task Force.
“People on the shoreline, as well as many people who live along Connecticut rivers, are still struggling, and in many cases, government bureaucracy is preventing them from rebuilding their homes and their lives,” said Fasano, whose district was hit hard by last year’s massive storm.
A spokesman for Malloy took issue with Fasano’s claims, saying the state has made great strides in cutting red tape.
The spokesman, Andrew Doba, said DEEP issued emergency authorizations after storms Irene and Sandy, allowing property owners to repair damage and secure their property without any prior permits. Doba said many property owners took advantage of that action, filing for any necessary permits after the fact to get the work done quickly.
Doba contends DEEP has stepped up efforts to streamline regulations, adding that approvals are now typically granted within 45 days and 100 percent are guaranteed within 90 days, despite a doubling of applications from Irene and Sandy.
“While inconvenient for the senator, these are the facts,” Doba said.
Yet Malloy agreed that the lives of many people in Connecticut have not yet returned to normal.
“There are still a lot of people out of their homes and a lot of people who haven’t been paid, but 70 percent of flood insurance claims have been paid,” said Malloy, adding how the state’s insurance ombudsman has intervened on behalf of some homeowners. “In a year’s time, that’s not perfect, but that’s a pretty high percentage.”
Malloy said the state has accessed about $550 million in funds, ranging from Small Business Administration aid to federal flood insurance payouts, since the storm. He said there were about $700 million in claims.