On a sun-dappled summer afternoon, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the federal housing secretary Monday told Milford residents still struggling from Hurricane Sandy that help, finally, is on the way.
For the time being, Lehmann K. Li and his wife, Susana, are giving them the benefit of the doubt.
But nearly 10 months after the storm destroyed their nephew's rental property, across the street from their East Broadway home, the Lis are still shellshocked -- if not by the historic flooding, then by a confusing maze of local, state and federal assistance.
$71 million to help people along the coast afford the concrete pilings that can help houses withstand the massive flooding seen during Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and again with Sandy.
"There will be a process," Malloy said in response to a reporter's question. "It's government work. There are a lot of forms and verification, but I can assure you that our state government will do everything we can to get this money out. We'll get this money out as quickly as possible."
In addition to $375 million the state has already received for infrastructure and repairs to public property, Malloy is looking for about $240 million in a third round of funding from the federal government.
In January, after a months-long delay by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, a $50.5 billion Sandy relief fund was finally approved, sent to the U.S. Senate and signed into law.
Donovan, an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama, pointed out that timeline a couple of times during the news conference.
"I know it is never fast enough, but we are working very quickly," he said.
The news conference, which took place on the beach next to Silver Sands State Park, was adjacent to the Lis' condemned house and a vacant lot of sand.
In the backdrop, another home was in the process of being raised 12 feet above the beach on concrete pilings at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Lehmann Li had been sitting next to the collapsed wooden deck of his nephew's home, where nearly 20 years ago during a Christmas party held by a friend, he was seduced by the view of Long Island Sound and nearby Charles Island.
"On nice, calm days the beach is heaven," he said with a wistful smile, referring to the house he bought as a rental investment and then sold to his nephew.
Lehmann Li, a 79-year-old retired engineer and part-time surgical instruments salesman, recalled that Sandy left four feet of water in their home's basement across the street and clams in their garage.
It also left their retirement plans in a shambles.
After their stop along the Milford coast, Donovan, Malloy, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal next motorcaded to the Washington Village housing complex in Norwalk to meet residents and Mayor Richard Moccia.
Malloy, Blumenthal, Moccia and Donovan, along with about a dozen other officials, jointly announced that a major project would move forward there, a project that will tear down and rebuild an entire housing project to make it all but impervious to a storm surge.
The 136-unit Washington Village project, although more than a half-mile from Long Island Sound proper, is only two blocks from the Norwalk River estuary. When Sandy hit on the night of Oct. 29, first-floor units had more than a foot of water in them.
Washington Village, built in the early 1940s, is one of the oldest housing projects in the state still in use. Officials said that although it is well built, it suffers from cramped apartments and lacks needed amenities such as space for classrooms and other common-use areas.
"It gets flooding maybe once or twice a year when water enters the crawl spaces," said Curtis Law, the longtime director of the Norwalk Housing Authority.
The rebuilt Washington Village will offer more living space to its residents. There will be 137 units of private, rental housing added, with about half of those units allocated for so-called "workforce housing" and the rest slotted for market-rate apartments.
The new units will have a first floor a few feet higher than they are now, with parking underneath. The new units will be three- and four-story units. The current structure has two-story units.
The project will cost about $106 million, most of that from both HUD and from the federal Sandy relief fund. The project will be completed over three phases.
Blumenthal seemed almost relieved that Moccia is a Republican because that will make it easier to sell local relief efforts to Republicans in Washington.
"I want to take this picture back to Washington," he said, in reference to the scene in a cramped community room with Moccia surrounded by Democrats. "If there's a lesson here, it's that we can make enormous progress if we come together and put aside the party lines and seek solutions that work at the local level."
"There's no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole, dirty street or housing project," said the mayor, paraphrasing Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "If they need fixing, we'll have to do it together."
Himes said the new housing project will offer access to jobs for lower-income residents.
"This is not just about better buildings, it's about connecting people to opportunities -- advantages that a lot of people in Fairfield County already have."
Malloy said that under his administration, the state is finally replacing its aging public housing stock.
"We hadn't replaced a public housing unit in 13 years," he said.
The governor defended the project's critics, notably Norwalk Common Councilwoman-at-Large Anna Duleep, who suggested the new housing should be built on higher ground and away from a floodplain.
"Let me say this," Malloy said. "We're in the waterfront of Connecticut, and you'd be hard-pressed not to build in a floodplain, from Greenwich to Stonington. The reality is how do you build smart, and that's what this project does. You'd have to back off from whole swaths of communities if you had to do that, and frankly, we don't have the land."
Duleep was undaunted by the governor.
"We do need to rebuild, absolutely," she said. "But there's a city-owned lot just a couple of blocks further inland."
The re-imagined housing project, officially called the Washington Village/South Norwalk Transformation Plan, was designed by the Boston planning firm Trinity Financial, also the master developer of the effort. Two large, adjacent lots would be incorporated into the development.
Blumenthal was confident that the money would soon arrive from Washington.
"This money is part of the amount already allocated, and I feel very comfortable that the appropriation will be there," he said. "But we're going to face a fight for these kinds of programs that are necessary in Norwalk and Bridgeport to build the affordable housing that you see here."