Emmeline Harrigan was an assistant city planner in Milford before she lost her job due to budget cuts. Although many Milford citizens fought to keep her in office, politics and money won and Harrigan was out of a job. The good news for Harrigan is that she found a new job very quickly working with the Shore Up CT program, run by the Housing Development Fund (HDF) in Bridgeport.
Shore Up CT is a new state of Connecticut funded low-interest loan program that provides financing for property owners in coastal municipalities located in Flood Zones VE or AE to finance or refinance property elevations. Also, according to ShoreUpCT.org, finances can go to equipment used for protecting homes from strong wind.
“Reflecting on my role as the assistant city planner with the City of Milford, especially following Storm Irene and Sandy recovery, elevations, flood compliance and coastal reconstruction was a primary focus in the past few years based on pure necessity. This work with Milford homeowners was tough but rewarding,” Harrigan said.
Since Harrigan had a great amount of experience with victims of natural disasters, the HDF admired her.
“Everyone told me when my Milford job ended that a closed door would lead to an opened one,” Harrigan said. “I certainly didn’t expect a new door to open so quickly. HDF contacted me after just about a week and a half and I started full time the last week of July.”
The coast of Connecticut, while beautiful, is not very stable and can create many adverse effects, Harrigan said, explaining the need for programs to help coastal storm victims.
“Coastal Connecticut towns like Milford, now and especially with sea level rise impacts exacerbating flooding issues in the future, really need to have qualified staff to provide technical assistance to homeowners who need to make their homes and neighborhoods more resilient to future storms,” Harrigan said.
It was this coastal threat and Harrigan’s knowledge of coastal issues that led environmentalists and people who live along the shoreline to fight for her job this past budget season.
Barbara Milton, former director at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center in Milford, wrote a letter during the budget process explaining Harrigan’s attributes.
“Harrigan, along with a group of researchers from Yale and from Guilford, is studying how our coastal towns can be more resilient in face of the coastal destruction that is predicted to come with climate change,” Milton wrote. “So it would seem to make sense (lots of cents) to retain an expert on an issue that has effected and will effect our town.
A secretary in the Planning and Zoning office presented a stack of letters to city leaders as they weighed budget options to prove that the assistant city planner is the real deal in Milford and that it would be a mistake to cut her $77,000 job.
Meg Greene, secretary in the Planning and Zoning office, placed a big stack of letters on the podium at City Hall and said there were 127 there, just a portion of the more than 800 letters Harrigan sent to residents telling them what they needed to do after two major storms slashed the shoreline.
“The assistant city planner gave storm victims actionable information,” Greene said. “Ask these homeowners who helped them find their way. And remember, neither of those was a full blown hurricane.”
Homeowners spoke up, too. Paola Goren started a petition to reinstate Harrigan’s job because she said Harrigan was vital to people like her who suffered major storm damage to their homes. The petition, however, failed to get the signatures needed to overturn the aldermen’s vote.
Lori Robinson, another coastal resident, said Harrigan and Tom Ivers, former block grant coordinator, were the two city staffers who gave her the most help. Now Harrigan is gone, Ivers has resigned, and Robinson is still going through the process to rebuild her home.
Cutting the job
Despite efforts by some aldermen and residents to save Harrigan’s position, it was officially cut in May when the Board of Aldermen voted on the 2014-15 budget.
Alderman Frank Smith made a motion to add $77,900 back into the budget to hold the job, saying the job had “evolved into a very critical position, becoming the primary contact for all shoreline development.”
Alderman Susan Shaw also went to bat for the assistant city planner. She said she’d just gotten an email from Hillside Avenue residents, who were hit hard by both Irene and Sandy. The residents said eliminating Harrigan’s position would cause more stress for people along the shore.
In a twisted and what some people say political maneuver, the board voted to cut a building inspector position at $54,000, in what some assumed was a swap for Harrigan’s job.
But when Alderman Smith’s motion to add Harrigan back into the budget came up, the motion failed and Harrigan’s job was cut along with the building inspector.
Although she loves her new job, Harrigan is very grateful for those who urged others to keep her at her old position.
“I appreciate all the people who signed a petition or otherwise showed their support for continuing this work,” Harrigan said. “Their support was truly humbling. I will never forget it and I will always be grateful.”
Harrigan said she is very honored to be working for Shore Up CT.
“It’s been a whirlwind with the launch of this new program, but HDF is a fantastic organization whose first time homebuyer assistance program and affordable housing work I’ve admired for years.”
Editor Jill Dion contributed to this article.