Northfield, Warwick discuss hazards, potential solutions

  • Northfield and Warwick each held Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness and Hazard Mitigation Planning kick-off meetings last week to discuss how natural disasters are impacting the area, and how the towns can become more resilient in the face of climate change. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Northfield and Warwick each held Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness and Hazard Mitigation Planning kick-off meetings last week to discuss how natural disasters are impacting the area, and how the towns can become more resilient in the face of climate change. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2020 6:42:17 PM

Northfield and Warwick each held Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness and Hazard Mitigation Planning “kick-off” meetings to discuss how natural disasters are impacting the area, and how the towns can become more resilient in the face of climate change.

Each town held meetings at their respective town halls. Warwick residents met early last week, while Northfield gathered Thursday. The meetings were conducted by Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) Senior Planner Alyssa Larose.

“By doing a regional process, towns can get extra points on grant applications and have a stronger chance of getting certain grants,” Larose said of the joint plan’s benefits.

The two towns are developing Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Community Resilience Building and Hazard Mitigation Regional Plans, in partnership with the FRCOG Planning Department. FRCOG’s consulting services are being covered by a $39,000 grant that the two towns were jointly awarded Feb. 6.

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness deals more with climate change-related issues, Larose explained. The Hazard Mitigation Plan deals with weather-related issues. The purpose of hazard mitigation, she said, is to reduce potential losses from future disasters. Mitigation plans identify the natural hazards that impact communities, identify actions to reduce losses from those hazards and establish a coordinated process to implement the plan.

According to Larose, Massachusetts’ changing climate is exposing communities to greater risk of natural threats. Changing weather has seen extreme swings in temperatures, as well as more frequent and intense storms. It amplifies the risks to community infrastructure, public health and natural resources. The 2020 Hazard Risk Assessment will study the impacts of severe weather, invasive species, droughts and possible dam failure along the Connecticut River.

Priority items raised at the Northfield meeting Thursday included preparation for the coronavirus, or other virus scares, and re-establishing an “emergency dispensing site.” Northfield used to have an emergency dispensing site years ago, and residents expressed interest in bringing it back. As the coronavirus continues to pose a threat globally, residents wanted to ensure the county is prepared for future virus scares.

Larose said this was something that could be investigated through the planning process. Cities and towns often have emergency management plans that designate specific locations in a community for the purpose of dispensing medication or administering vaccines to the public during a public health emergency.

Northfield Town Administrator Andrea Llamas pointed to water supply issues. She said the increased intense weather affected the quality of the local reservoir, potentially leading to the need for the East Northfield Water Co. to invest in a multi-million dollar filtration system or establish wells for drinking water.

“That is an issue directly exacerbated by climate change,” Llamas said. “Water for hundreds of houses is being impacted by climate change.”

Residents also mentioned troubleshooting the Reverse 911 system and radio or cell-phone “dead zones” in town. Some of the major issues that Warwick residents identified last week were also connected to communications.

“There will be some overlap, but of course there will also be differences in needs between the two towns,” Larose said.

She said residents noted a need for tree maintenance around communication towers, both to prevent damage to the towers and to provide clear signals for radios, phones and internet. They also pointed to difficult cellphone coverage in some areas of town as a public safety concern, saying fire, police and highway radio systems need to be able to communicate with one another.

There is also a storm damage vulnerability issue for Warwick’s broadband fiber network. Storm impacts have been harsh in the last several months, resulting in power outages and road blockages. A recent storm in the fall saw high winds causing downed trees on every road in town and left some residents without power for up to five days.

Other topics included replacing or repairing culverts to handle heavier precipitation, a region-wide issue according to Larose. She said the cost to upgrade culverts at road-stream crossings is prohibitive for small towns.

Once the new plan is approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and adopted by the towns, Northfield and Warwick will become certified Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness communities and will be eligible for additional state and federal grants. This funding can be used for projects that address climate change resilience, as well as pre-disaster and post-disaster hazard mitigation.

A joint Community Resilience Building Workshop will be held at Warwick Town Hall on April 2, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The workshop invites town employees and residents from both Northfield and Warwick to contribute to the draft Hazard Mitigation and Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness plan.

“We want as many people from both towns as possible to attend,” Larose said.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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