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Article Published June 12, 2019
Town Officials Look to Form Madison Coastal Resiliency Commission
Zoe Roos, Staff Writer

As oceans warm and sea level rises, towns across Connecticut are facing the daunting task of preparing for the inevitable. With that in mind, Madison officials are getting ready to form a Madison Coastal Resiliency Commission to prepare the town for the changes to come.

The idea of forming a resiliency commission came up earlier this year, in large part due to conversations happening with the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) on flood plain management and the fact that the state has told towns to prepare for 20 inches of sea level rise by 2050.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Dave Anderson brought the idea of a resiliency commission to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) last month. He said the commission would take a comprehensive look at all of the issues the town could face and create a resiliency planning document. On Jen 11, Anderson returned to the BOS with a draft charge for the commission.

The charge reads: “The Madison Coastal Resiliency Commission shall be charged with evaluating the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the Town of Madison, and shall develop a resiliency plan to formulate a resiliency and adaptation strategy to address potential impacts to roads, municipal parks and facilities, other critical municipal infrastructure, public and private onsite septic systems, and emergency response services. The commission shall also conduct educational and public outreach activities to communicate its findings and recommendations, and shall provide budgetary recommendations to the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance. The Madison Coastal Resiliency Commission shall report directly to the Board of Selectmen in carrying out its duties.”

Anderson said a commission like this is new territory for the towns across the shoreline so the charge should be flexible.

“I don’t think this issue is so cut and dry that we are necessarily going to get it right the first time, so I would be comfortable moving forward as written with the understanding that we are going to work our way through this process,” he said. “The way the charge is written there is an initial six-month study period where we are just going to have a check back in with the public and the BOS at that point to try to make sure we are framing the issue correctly and ultimately we are going to try to develop a resiliency plan.”

The commission would have seven members, including Anderson. Town officials are not usually voting members on a commission and just serve as a resource or liaison, but Anderson and the selectmen agreed this commission will need to be a little different.

“I think the benefit of having some level of technical expertise sitting on the committee as members is important, but I think also it embedded this resiliency decision making into town government operations better than if we just had liaisons to the committee,” he said. “This is also unique because no one really knows what the answers are to this. So the way I am looking at it is staff and town residents would be working together to try to frame this issue.”

The commission would report to the BOS, not PZC. Anderson said the draft charge was presented to PZC, which supported the idea. Looking over the charge, selectman Bruce Wilson asked if language could be added to ensure the resiliency plan nests within the not-yet-completed town strategic plan.

The 10-year strategic plan is a BOS initiative intended to help to guide all of the town needs—not just budgetary or capital items—for the next decade or more. Selectmen have been working on a draft of the plan for months but no draft has been released to the public at this time.

“The only thing I would caution is I think it is reverse,” he said. “I think this group would provide input into the BOS strategic plan and then you take that input. The strategic plan could say we want to create multi-family housing as much as possible to attract young people to town and then what this group is going to tell you is well there are certain areas of town that might not be suitable for that kind of development.”

In terms of who should be on the commission, Anderson said the hope is to cast a wide net to try to get as many qualified and passionate people interested in the job as possible. However, a question was raised about making clear the minimum volunteer time requirement for commission like this so that the work of the commission can progress. First Selectman Tom Banisch said it is hard to give a required commitment in hours of service, but said he understands the concern.

“This committee is going to be tasked with a big job and it’s not a short-term job, so that is one of those things were we might need to get into it a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think we are going to be able to tell people ahead of time what the exact commitment is going to be.”

Selectman Al Goldberg said Madison is a town that runs on volunteers and that is both a strength and a weakness. He said the BOS will just have to make clear that is a big issue when looking for people to serve on the commission.

“I think the best thing we can do is find people who are passionate about this subject and are willing to do whatever it takes to move the ball forward,” he said.

The commission must be formally established by an affirmative vote at town meeting. A town meeting is currently scheduled for Monday, June 24. Check the town website for time and location.