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Deerfield climate change workshop urges need to prepare for disaster

  • Stormy view from Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield. Recorder file photo



Recorder Staff
Thursday, January 25, 2018

SOUTH DEERFIELD — To stay ahead of severe weather and natural disasters like Hurricane Irene, Deerfield taxpayers need to raise money, town leaders have been told.

Responding to federal policy changes since President Donald Trump took office, Selectboard Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness said the town needs to actively invest in preparing — as opposed to reacting to — storms and more subtle threats like the advance of insect-borne diseases.

“At the local level, we’re really stressed out,” with the effects of climate change and how to pay for rising costs, with likely less federal funding in the future, Ness said to the group gathered Wednesday at the Deerfield Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Workshop. The meeting was held to increase the chances of getting state money for natural disasters and severe weather. The workshop was run by Ness and representatives from the Massachusetts consulting firm, Conservations Works.

Deerfield residents will likely be asked at this year’s annual town meeting to approve $25,000 to $50,000 toward repairing and replacing the culverts on Greenfield Road from Richardson’s Candy Kitchen to the Deerfield River, an area that was flooded during Irene, Ness said.

The project will cost a total of $1.3 million, Ness estimates, which she hopes can be paid through several sources. She does not expect it to fall solely on residents.

Taxpayers will also be asked to join the Pioneer Valley Mosquito District, she said. Deerfield is spearheading the regional partnership to combat mosquito-borne illnesses as the insects work their way north with climate change.

“We’re moving from recovery to preparing,” Ness said. “This is what we’re trying to do today with these accelerating changes in the climate, which will cost us more in the future; we’re doing financial resiliency.”

In attendance were many local stakeholders, including members of law enforcement and public works, Selectboard members, representatives from the Franklin Land Trust, Historic Deerfield, Deerfield Academy, Bement School and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

The group agreed on five priorities for the town, part of the requirements for state funding:

Upgrading and replacing the culverts from Richardson’s Candy Kitchen down to the river.

Developing an emergency communication plan with the owners of the regional dams on the Deerfield River following a changeover in ownership in recent years.

Updated floodplain maps portraying conditions post-Hurricane Irene.

Debris management-approved site in Deerfield.

Two-part priority in regards to drainage. One aspect supports the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s no tilling plan, which helps pay for equipment for farmers to avoid tilling. The other would be joining the Pioneer Valley Mosquito District.

These five priorities will now be a part of Deerfield’s application to become one of the first in the state to be approved for “Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness,” or MVP, which would qualify the town for state money for projects concerning the environment.

“It’s not new information for us as a Selectboard. What’s really great is it’s been educating the community members and it’s been crystalizing in our mind what are the top priorities,” Ness said.

Receiving state money through this program will be one way Deerfield can circumvent a lack of potential federal funding for natural disasters and weather-related emergencies. It can also speed up the process of receiving funding in general, since at times towns can see a lag in response.

The process to become a certified “MVP” by the state will be ongoing and Ness said there isn’t a timeline at the moment, but she felt confident that the state funding would be there, regardless of what happens on the federal level.

“The state is recognizing that the feds will not ... help, which coincides with my panic that we will not be able to cover the costs.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264