Town employees do many things to make Westport work. They plow roads, put out fires and protect the public, to name only a few.
But they do plenty of other things no one ever sees. Like planning for floods — and then making sure residents in those areas get reductions in flood insurance.
That’s not something every town does. Only 6 other municipalities — of the 169 in Connecticut — get that break. It saves the average policyholder here $190 a year.
For that, we can thank Michelle Perillie. She’s in her 21st year with the Planning & Zoning Department. Last month she became a Certified Floodplain Manager.
It’s not just a title. The training was rigorous; testing was tough. Perillie did it to add to her value as a town planner — and to help the many Westporters who live in flood-prone neighborhoods.
As floodplain manager, she helps manage flood resources, and mitigate flooding. She enforces the town’s flood damage prevention policies; updates flood maps, plans and policies, and administers the National Flood Insurance Program.
She offers information and resources to property owners in the 100-year floodplain. She hopes to initiate a Flood Awareness Week in Westport, and make presentations at local schools.
Perillie checks new construction, and issues elevation certificates.
She also inspects flood-prone properties. Approximately 70 homes in Westport have been raised. She makes sure that the lower levels have not been converted to living space.
It’s her work with the Community Rating (flood) System that saves Westport taxpayers all that money. Her goal is for Westport to move one tier up. That will save policyholders an additional $93 annually.
Only a handful of Connecticut towns are part of the Community Rating System. It’s time-consuming — but clearly worthwhile.
So how prepared is Westport for big floods?
“Storms are becoming more frequent, and stronger,” the floodplain manager notes. “People have to be ready. But when a year or two passes without a major one, storms and flooding are no longer at the top of their minds.”
Many homeowners think, “I didn’t flood in the last storm. So I won’t flood unless it’s a 100-year storm.”
Yet, Perrillie explains, a 100-year storm is not one that happens once a century. It’s simply a storm with a 1% chance of happening in any given year.
Superstorm Sandy devastated Westport in 2012. And that did not meet the definition of a “100-year storm.”
More generally, she says, the town must prepare for sea-level rise. That means making existing facilities “resilient,” as well as monitoring new construction.
State officials know what’s ahead. They’re planning for sea levels to rise up to 20 inches, by 2050.
That seems far in the future. But it’s only 30 years from now.
There’s no telling how many 100-year floods we’ll have by then.
At least Michelle Perillie can help us prepare.