Floodplain Manager Saves Property — And $$$

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.

Michelle Perillie

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?

September 2018: South Morningside Drive. (Photo/Dylan Honig)

“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.”

Superstrom Sandy struck in October of 2012. (Photo/Mary Hoffman)

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.

9 responses to “Floodplain Manager Saves Property — And $$$

  1. If the town really believes that we’re going to see a nearly two foot sea level rise in just a few decades, why is there discussion (as there was just last night at P&Z) about encouraging more humans to live downtown on Main Street. Is it generally our policy to encourage more infrastructure and population density in established floodplains?

  2. State Officials know!? If so, CT should be planning the evacuation and relocation of Westport. Which RTM Coimmittee is handling this? Better hurry, only 30 years to make the move North.

    • Weston called. It said it would gladly host Westport within its borders. But it wanted to revisit those new non-resident beach entry fees .

    • And we had only 10 years 30 years ago…

      • Mr. Stalling – thank you. This is an interesting article projecting forward to us from 1989. So according to the UN, the problem should have already been “beyond human control” by 2000. Yet here we are today 20 years past the supposed fail-safe date still talking in much the same terms.

        There is a legitimate issue here, but all of us need to be reminded that chronic over-emoting contributes to cynicism about the problem and actually impedes realistic planning.

        I would urge our town planners to keep this in mind in whatever strategies they may be developing for us.

  3. Danielle Dobin

    Congrats to Michelle on this important certification. We are so fortunate to have her at P&Z! Thanks for highlighting this, Dan. Michelle works tirelessly – and always with a smile – to help Westport residents and business owners.

  4. Michael Calise

    Michelle’s contributions go well beyond flood control she is a invaluable mainstay at the P & Z office !!

  5. I share the positive comments about Michelle. I add though, that the P&Z Commission changed its regulations some time ago to allow new construction in our beach/flood areas to exceed the 26′ height rule by up to five feet in order to elevate such new construction. I supported the height increase for homeowners who sought to raise their existing homes to prevent flood waters from damaging an existing home. I opposed the increase for homeowners or builders who sought to demolish an existing home and then build a new, usually larger home, that was allowed to exceed the 26′ height rule. My judgement was that new homes should conform to the 26′ height rule, but if someone wanted to preserve and elevate an existing home the five feet of extra height permitted under the regulation was fair. 233 Hillspoint Rd. is an example of a new house that took advantage of the use of the added five feet in height.

  6. Very helpful article for me! Thanks for sharing and keep posting.