Concrete action that can make a difference

Concrete action that can make a difference


Even in politically uncompetitive Connecticut one person can still make a difference, at least if he knows what he’s doing, as Manchester’s Carl A. Zinsser showed the other day.

Zinsser, a real estate agent and former Republican state senator, has been alarmed by the failure of government to do more than inventory the worsening problem of building foundations that are crumbling in northeastern Connecticut on account of a troublesome mineral, pyrrhotite, in the concrete. Such repairs apparently are not covered by ordinary home insurance.

In June, Zinsser wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, asking for the federal government’s help for affected homeowners. He became more alarmed when he received a form letter reply from Murphy’s office asserting mistakenly that the federal government has no jurisdiction in the concrete issue. Protesting in a second letter to the senator, Zinsser got his attention, an apology, and an expression of interest. But Zinsser didn’t stop there. He pressed Murphy to hold a meeting with constituents in northeastern Connecticut. He got the Journal Inquirer to publicize the exchange.

Murphy agreed to a meeting and, when it was held in Tolland the other day, he brought the state’s other senator, Richard Blumenthal.

The senators did not offer much hope for the homeowners, lamenting the bitter political division in Washington — to which the senators themselves have contributed. While the flooding in the Houston area this week may be catastrophic enough to overcome that division and prompt major appropriations by Congress and the president, northeastern Connecticut’s problems may look small by comparison.

But there are still possibilities. Thousands of flooded homes in the Houston area also will not be covered by ordinary home insurance and thousands of people there are also at risk of being wiped out financially. Thus there is a link to northeastern Connecticut, even if pyrrhotite is not a natural disaster in the usual sense.

The news reporter who broke the foundation story a year ago for WVIT-TV30 in West Hartford, George Colli, has suggested that state government might establish a fund to loan money to homeowners for repairs and allow them to repay it over time by diverting their property taxes as their repaired homes regain value. The property tax revenue town governments would lose this way would be lost anyway as buildings with crumbling foundations are revalued to zero.

Further, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and grants for home repairs after natural disasters and presumably will be authorized by Congress and the president to do the same in the Houston area. Such legislation may provide a vehicle for Connecticut’s congressmen to seek qualification for buildings impaired by pyrrhotite.

In any case, as Zinsser notes, the federal government seems to think that it has lots of money for dubious interventions abroad, from Afghanistan to Ukraine to Venezuela. All by himself he put some high officials on the spot about it. People should follow his example.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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