WHATELY — The town has opened a public comment period with respect to updating its hazard mitigation plan.
The plan — which is designed to reduce potential losses from future natural disasters — was presented by Kimberly Noake MacPhee of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) at a recent Select Board meeting, during which she outlined the town’s top priorities to addressing natural hazards and the impact of climate change.
Public comment on the plan, which is available to view on the town website, runs through Sept. 9. Comments can be submitted to Town Administrator Brian Domina at 4 Sandy Lane, South Deerfield, MA 01373.
“Climate change is amplifying the risk that communities already face from natural hazard events, because these events are happening with more frequency, and they’re generally bigger storms and they last for a longer time,” Noake MacPhee said.
She noted that we’re already seeing higher temperatures for longer periods of time, shorter winters, and more frequent and intense storms.
“We’re currently in a drought situation now,” she added.
As for storms, a severe storm in June, later characterized as a microburst, caused the collapse of a tobacco barn on Long Plain Road.
Noake MacPhee explained that hazard mitigation plans help determine what the “top priority hazards” are now and in the future. Examples of hazards include flooding, drought, extreme temperatures or severe winter storms.
The 2020 plan includes three new hazards that weren’t in the 2014 plan: drought, invasive species and temperature extremes.
Each of the hazards addressed include a vulnerability assessment, which factors in potential impacts of climate change on the hazard, and a discussion on the societal, economic, health, infrastructure and environmental impacts of the hazard.
“This is … a first broad look at all this,” Noake MacPhee said. “If the town were interested in delving deeper into any of these vulnerability assessments, that’s something that could be funded by an (Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness) action grant.”
Within the 254-page mitigation plan is a prioritized list of actions, or projects, to minimize the impact of different hazards. Several items were carried over from the 2014 plan, but many of the items were new to this plan.
“These projects can basically be categorized in three ways: projects that protect critical facilities and infrastructure, projects that involve public education and outreach, and projects that involve local or regional plans and regulations,” Noake MacPhee said.
Some of the new action items characterized as high priorities include hiring a consultant to conduct an assessment of the Mill River Watershed to identify river erosion threats to the town’s public water supply wells, as well as other “critical infrastructure” such as culverts, roads and utilities. Another high priority is equipping the Water Department pump hoses with a backup generator.
Following the public comment period, a final draft of the plan will be submitted to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for approval.
“This plan, once it’s approved by FEMA,” she said, “will be valid for five years.”