Hazard Mitigation Plan Update - Jun 13th, 2019

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Presenting: Emily Sullivan (DPCD Environmental Planner) and Martin Pillsbury (MAPC). Mr. Pillsbury works on municipal vulnerability planning, climate change, resiliency, and climate adaptation practices. The goal is to turn science into actionable items.

The meeting begins with an exercise. At the front of the room are two easels, each with a map of Arlington. One map is labeled "strengths" and the other is labeled "concerns". Attendees are given magic markers and asked to make notes on the maps -- they can reference specific places (as strengths or concerns), or make notes that apply to the town in general. After the exercise, Mr. Pillsbury reads through what people wrote.

Strengths include:

  • Civic activism
  • Open space
  • the minuteman bikeway
  • trees
  • good public spaces
  • public housing
  • a new high school

Concerns include:

  • Housing: not enough and too expensive
  • natural gas leaks
  • storms
  • tidal surges
  • snow storage
  • power outages
  • flooding
  • the need for cooling centers, and public buildings with generators
  • old infrastructure
  • failure of the Amelia Earhart dam
  • Menotomy Manor (a public housing complex that's located in a flood zone)
  • Traffic
  • heat islands
  • natural gas transmission lines

An attendee from Sustainable Arlington tells the group that storm surges during the last year came within 2' of over-topping the Amelia Earhart dam.

Mr. Pillsbury says the Charles river dam faces a similar issue. The state has started looking at upgrades to the dam's pumping facilities, at the request of the Massachusetts Mayor's Coalition.

MyRWA -- the Mystic River Watershed Association -- works with municipalities on watershed issues, and partners with them on resiliency efforts.

Having and updating a hazard mitigation plan allows municipalities to obtain grant assistance from FEMA, per the Federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Arlington's drafted its first plan in 2012, and we are in the process of updating it. FEMA wants disaster mitigation plans updated every five years.

Hazard mitigation plans are different than comprehensive emergency management plans (of course, municipalities need emergency management plans too). Hazard mitigation plans deal with pre-disaster measures; what the municipality does before a disaster happens. These plans consider threats such as flooding, snow, drought, extreme temperatures, brush fires, and earthquakes.

Mitigation seeks to reduce or prevent loss of life, injury, or property damage by enacting long term strategies before a disaster happens. One must consider disasters that have happened in the past, and disasters that might happen in the future. Climate change broadens the spectrum of future disasters.

The Federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 came out of repetitive loses due to flooding. These repetitive losses tend to happen along the coast. Scituate has a lot of them, and one of the highest rates of repetitive losses in the country.

Here are some of the primary tools for mitigation:

  1. Prevention. For example, don't build in hazardous areas.
  2. Property Protection. For example, one can elevate buildings and structures to prevent damage from flooding.
  3. Public education. Part of preparing the public for what can happen is making them aware of what can happen.
  4. Natural resource protection. This includes things like green infrastructure. The goal is to have mother nature help as much as possible.
  5. Structural projects. These include seawalls, drainage systems, and culverts.
  6. Emergency service protection

Arlington is developing its hazard mitigation plan via a hazard mitigation team. The team includes members from many town departments. MAPC is providing technical assistance, to draft the plan in a way that conforms to FEMA's submission requirements. Tonight is the first of two public meetings; the second public meeting will be held when the draft plan is written, before it's submitted to FEMA and MEMA. FEMA and MEMA will review the draft, and may ask for revisions.

Steps in the process include: mapping hazard areas, inventorying and mapping critical facilities, assessing risks and vulnerabilities, reviewing existing mitigation measures, recommending new (or different) mitigation strategies, public meetings, plan approval, and plan adoption.

Hazard identification mapping uses a combination of state data and local knowledge. For example, the Alewife Brook USGS gauge provides a history of flow data from the brook. Mr. Pillsbury showed a slide of gauge data from March 2010, when the area flooded twice in a period of two weeks. Arlington has identified eight areas that are vulnerable to flooding, and one that's vulnerable to wildfires (I believe the Thorndike Field area was the part of town that's vulnerable to wildfires).

The town has identified and mapped 89 critical infrastructure facilities. Different facilities are critical for different reasons; emergency power generation and senior housing, for example.

We've used vulnerability assessments and FEMA modeling software to estimate the cost of damages for different disaster scenarios.

Not all mitigation happens through the public sector. Some has to be done by business and private individuals.

There will be a second public meeting in the fall, before the draft plan is submitted. Once FEMA approves the draft, the select board will have to adopt it.

A resource from MAPC: the Low-Impact development toolkit. See https://www.mapc.org/resource-library/low-impact-development-toolkit/