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Project Summary

In the fall of 2016, a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region convened a group of over fifty stakeholders from Southeastern Connecticut to discuss the impacts of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and changing social and economic conditions on the resilience of the region and its communities. Starting with a core group consisting of municipal planners and economic development professionals before expanding into two larger workshop venues, participants discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the region. These discussions covered the six planning sectors of water, food, ecosystem services, transportation, energy, and the regional economy.

In addition to the regional workshops, The Nature Conservancy team worked on three location-specific designs with municipal planners and other local experts. The designs reflect land-use planning at three different scales: village center, municipal coastline, and multi-town shared river mouth. These designs were selected based off their importance for the resilience of the greater region and are intended to provide both conversation starters and inspiration for other projects.

Project Background

In 2015, The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut Chapter received funding from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut to continue resilience work in Southeastern Connecticut. This investment allowed TNC to capitalize on a decade of community resilience-building efforts working to conserve ecosystems and protect people and property in cities, towns, and villages across Connecticut from extreme weather and a changing climate. However, for this project, the core project team sought to apply the notion of resilience at a regional scale as well as integrate the implications of shifts in socioeconomic conditions. This expansion serves to embody a more relevant, meaningful, and holistic representation of regional resilience in Southeastern Connecticut, and likely elsewhere nationally and internationally.

The Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resilience Vision Summary of Findings and Guidebook is the culmination of a year of dialogue spearheaded by TNC, Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region. Those involved in articulating this vision included representatives from municipal planning departments, public and private utilities, public health departments, chambers of commerce, major employers, conservation organizations, academic institutions, community non-profits, and state agencies among many others. This effort was greatly enriched by the significant contributions of an outstanding group of individuals that represent the economic, social, and environmental backbone of Southeastern Connecticut. 

During the project’s meetings and workshops, participants worked to develop a shared understanding of what resilience means for their region. In addition to resilience from extreme weather and a changing climate, participants also explored how the region could anticipate and respond to other chronic economic and social challenges across diverse planning sectors such as energy provisioning, food and water systems, ecosystem services, transportation, and economic stability and growth. By surfacing and integrating these considerations, the process identified solutions that address singular as well as multiple challenges across a diverse suite of concerns and fields of expertise.

Project Implementation

The core project team formed the backbone of the regional resilience visioning process. After a series of intensive, information-gathering interviews with municipal staff, the core team gathered a group of land-use and economic development planners to help further define what they hoped to gain from a regional resilience visioning exercise. Current concerns, knowledge gaps, and participants they wanted to include in the larger resilience dialogue were identified. The nine municipalities engaged included East Lyme, Groton (City and Town), Montville, New London, Norwich, Ledyard, Salem, Stonington, and Waterford.

Greater awareness of risks from extreme weather and climate change across the nine municipalities was advanced through direct and routine community engagement efforts. This engagement involved between two to four individual listening and scoping meetings with each municipality. These initial meetings created common understanding of current and future risks alongside high priority challenges and potential solutions for each of the municipalities. This information served as the bedrock upon which the subsequent community resilience building efforts were structured. The resulting information encompassed extreme weather and climate change and shifts in social and economic conditions across Southeastern Connecticut.  

After these initial discussions and an exhaustive review of all other previous work on hazard mitigation and resilience in the region, the core team gathered a larger municipal-based team comprised of planners from all nine municipalities and regional entities (approximately 25 professionals). This larger planning team then served as the nucleus for a series of scoping sessions to further refine the shared values, context and intent for the Regional Resilience Vision. The larger planning team and core team eventually landed on six systems of concern or planning sectors that came up regularly in conversation, including water, food, ecosystem services, transportation, energy, and the regional economy. These planning sectors provided the framework for subsequent dialogues in the two regional resilience workshops: Challenges and Solutions. Seventy-five attendees participated in these workshops, with additional stakeholders contacted in post-workshops interviews. These workshops were followed by further engagement with the municipal-based planning team to further refine the solutions and foster collaborative ownership going forward.  

Organizations that participated in the process included representatives from SCCOG, SeCTer, nine municipalities (East Lyme, Groton (City and Town), Montville, New London, Norwich, Ledyard, Salem, Stonington, and Waterford), Ledge Light Health District, Avalonia Land Conservancy, UConn CLEAR, UConn NEMO, Connecticut College, Millstone Environmental Laboratory, New London Homeless Hospitality Center, Uncas Health District, New London County Food Policy Council, FRESH New London, Eastern Connecticut State University Institute for Sustainable Energy, Thames River Basin Partnership, Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Eversource Energy, Norwich Community Development Corporation, Renaissance City Development Corporation, Pfizer, Connecticut Department of Public Health, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Department of Transportation, Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Region 4, Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, and the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District. The Connecticut College Arboretum, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, Spark Makerspace, and Foundry 66 provided space to hold meetings and workshops. 

Project Outcomes and Conclusions

The final outcomes and conclusions are captured in the Summary of Findings, which provides a comprehensive account of the objectives, process, and the details captured related to regional resilience in Southeastern Connecticut. The Guidebook provides a robust account of the regional resilience challenges and solutions identified during municipal-based planning sessions and the regional workshop series. The Guidebook is intended to be a quick reference resource to help shape and inform actions that will advance a regional resilience framework for Southeastern Connecticut. The work address resilience to extreme weather, climate change, and shifts in social and economic conditions.

Southeastern Connecticut is a collection of communities each with its own individual history and identity. However, the fate of each community is closely tied to the social, environmental, and economic health of the whole region. Therefore, the challenges facing Southeastern Connecticut are best tackled collectively with multiple municipalities, organizations, associations, institutions, foundations, and businesses working together across the region. Our sincere hope is that this resilience building process and Summary of Findings helps communities secure greater clarity on the common challenges they face while providing a positive vision for continued dialogue, resource sharing, and collaborative leadership needed to create a truly resilient region.

Project Keywords

Recommended Citation

Whelchel, A. (2017). Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resilience Vision Project [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy]. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/southeastern-connecticut-regional-resi... (Last updated June 2017)