Deerfield trying to get ahead of the warming curve

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When Tropical Storm Irene hovered over western Massachusetts in 2011, the deluge caused the Deerfield River to jump its banks like never before in recent memory, stripping acres of rich topsoil from adjacent farm fields, leaving behind silt and sand.

Nearly seven years later, many people, especially those in charge of our federal government, have stuck their heads in the sand, denying the impacts of severe weather that the world’s experts say global warming promises to send our way again.

Think globally and act locally, we are told, and Deerfield officials should be credited for doing just that.

To stay ahead of severe weather and natural disasters like Hurricane Irene, the Deerfield Selectboard is pushing to spend local tax money on some flooding resiliency measures.

Selectboard Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness says the town needs to actively invest in preparing for — as opposed to reacting to — storms and more subtle threats like the advance of insect-borne diseases that seem headed this way with the subtle rise in global temperatures.

“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 told a recent Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Workshop aimed at getting state money for natural disasters and severe weather.

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

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 local taxpayers.

Town meeting voters will also be asked to join the Pioneer Valley Mosquito District. 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, arguing such action is practicing “financial resiliency.”

The plan also calls for developing an emergency communication plan with the owners of the regional dams on the Deerfield River; updated floodplain maps portraying conditions post-Hurricane Irene.

These 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,” which would qualify the town for state money for projects concerning the environment.

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.

Shores Ness and her fellow Selectboard members deserve credit for anticipating local impacts of global warning, and deserve taxpayer support at town meeting.