The City Council worked through a lengthy meeting that stretched past 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There have been 49 declared natural disasters in Massachusetts since 1953, and 20 of those in the Berkshires.
And climate change and an aging infrastructure are exacerbating current hazards and creating future challenges for communities.
"This could be our new normal, going forward, and we need to prepare and adapt to it," said Caroline Massa, senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, told the City Council on Tuesday night.
The state is encouraging communities to work on Hazard Mitigation and Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness, integrate the connections between climate change and natural hazards into the planning process and to identify vulnerabilities related to infrastructure, societal, assets and environmental factors. The state is providing grant funding for hazard mitigation to aid communities in developing and implementing plans and resources. The city received a grant to work with BRPC to develop its plan.
The council was presented with a preliminary planning document on Tuesday that outlined natural challenges and looked at areas of concern realized through feedback from residents and a workshop with various stakeholders last month.
"We want to explore nature-based solutions, what the state is really pushing for," she said. "In this process, we can come up with nature-based solutions that they will be funding through action grants ... and identify opportunities for us to integrate this into the rest of our planning process."
Massa provided data from state and federal agencies that showed rising temperatures over the past 50 or so years. Warming trends have been raised concerns of sea level rise, but the effect inland in the Berkshires means longer growing seasons that are also increasing the number of insects and more precipitation. Warming temperatures mean the rain evaporates at a higher rate, strengthening the energy for more severe storms.
Flooding, severe rain and thunderstorms, snow and ice and hurricanes are potential disasters, along with ticks and other insects that pose health and environmental problems.
The city is built mostly in the floodplain because it offered better soils for farming and access to water for power and transportation.
"Now we need to realize that with climate change and flooding patterns, we need to do better," Massa said, adding "we want to avoid pushing the water away from us, we want to live with the water better."
Color-coded flood maps show the number of residential and commercial areas in danger of flooding, crowded along the flood control chutes. Massa said the maps are about 40 years old at this point but the central point remains the same.
"We also want to touch on the importance of community networks," she said. "There's been studies that show that communities that know what's happening, network, are able to bounce back from disaster much faster."
The major hazards identified by residents was flooding, wind and snow, and in relation to those elements, the city's aging dams and the railroad.
While the rail line is not a natural hazard, they raised concerns about how a natural disaster would affect the line and — perhaps more importantly — what the train might be carrying.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the city's public safety and first-responders have paying attention to the potential for a train disaster, whether caused by nature or not.
And, he said, there are a number of older dams that are sitting above the city, including the city's two reservoirs and Windsor Lake. A Phase 2 study on their condition has recently been completed.
"There are upgrades and upkeep we have to think about," Canales said. "These are things we need to be aware with increased water issues and the rest."
Developing the plan will open opportunities for the city to apply for state and federal grants toward mitigation and solutions like stepped riverbanks that contain flooding but also act as parks, "hazard mitigation in disguise," Massa called it.
While there are number of grant programs that can apply to hazard mitigation, the MVP program is relatively new, she said.
"They're still figuring it out. And so that's why it's really great that you're on the forefront of becoming a new key community because you can shape the program," Massa said. "Then you submit a really interesting application that really captures what they're going for. You have a better chance of getting funded because they want to be kind of a model."
Canales said he expected the final plan to be ready in January or February next year.
In other business,
• Bryan Sapienza was reappointed to the Public Arts Commission for a term to expire May 1, 2024, and Rosemari Dickinson was reappointed to the License Board for a term to expire June 1, 2025.
• A change in the Cemetery Commission ordinances increasing the commission from three members to five on the recommendation of the Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau was passed to publication and a second reading. Councilor Jason LaForest and Rebbecca Cohen voted against; LaForest did not feel the explanation for the change — lack of quorum, desire for the commission to do more — clarified the need and objected to the cost of publishing.
• The council approved an increase in the scale rate at the transfer station to 6.33 cents per pound, or $126.59 per ton (up $10), and the bags by 25 cents to $1.25 for small and $2.50 for large, on the recommendation of the Public Services Committee. The council also voted to transfer $42,942.00 from the transfer station service account to buy six new large bins for bagged solid waste, recycled paper and recycled plastic.
• State law was adopted by the city to authorize it to establish speed limits of 25 mph in "thickly settled or business district" and "safety zones" of 20 mph and passed to a second reading and publication.
• A secondhand license was renewed for Timothy Randall to operate Sanford & Kid on Houghton Street.
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