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How Easthampton, Southampton and Westhampton are prepping for climate change

  • The Westhampton Public Library is outfitted with solar panels. Westhampton Library Facebook page—

  • This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/18/2019 11:26:04 PM

Easthampton is looking to head off some of the threats climate change might pose.

“Easthampton has always had a keen eye and focus on climate change,” said Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

More frequently severe weather attributed to climate change has affected recreation in the city, she said, pointing to the erosion of the rail trail and increased flooding in Daily Field and the playing fields of Nonotuck Park.

Last year, Maple Street School enacted a program to get people to stop idling their cars.

“The signs are still up, and you can’t really go too close to the elementary schools without some child between kindergarten and fifth grade saying, ‘Turn off your car,’” LaChapelle said. “They really publicized and got the word out throughout our school district why this is so important.”

The city is undertaking preventive efforts to deal with the effects of climate change such as a microburst or a dam breaking by looking at whether wellheads are secure and protecting culverts in the city.

“A lot of the culverts that we have in the city are easily overwhelmed,” she said. The city has identified which culverts are most at risk in its stormwater management plan, LaChapelle said, and the issue is also addressed as part of a municipal vulnerability planning grant that is soon to wrap up.

The city is also looking into regional coordination for preventive disaster planning with other communities.

“Water doesn’t stop at the Easthampton border,” she said.

LaChapelle noted Easthampton’s long-term status as a Green Community, a designation awarded by the Department of Energy Resources. In order to get the designation, communities must meet five criteria, including committing to reducing municipal energy use by 20 percent in five years.

She cited weatherization efforts on city buildings, making the city more bike-friendly and changing over light bulbs in streetlights and in buildings as examples of past work the city has done.

“We’d love the city to be off-grid,” said the mayor, although she said there isn’t any infrastructure money currently designated for that. LaChapelle also said she would like to see more solar on city buildings.

Southampton

In Southampton, the town is looking at climate change from both an energy and natural disaster perspective.

“We’re looking into how we can save energy,” said Town Administrator Ed Gibson.

The town has signed onto solar net metering credits and “cow power,” Gibson said, which uses anaerobic digesters and manure to generate electricity. Both programs, formerly offered by the Hampshire Council of Governments, have since been transferred to another entity, Gibson said.

Southampton is considering moving the city’s water main to a bridge over the Manhan River to mitigate the risk of flooding, Gibson said. The possible removal of a privately held dam on the Manhan River could increase flooding risks that could impact or break the main, Gibson said, adding that climate change increases those risks.

Southampton is a certified Green Community, and Gibson said the town is looking at how it can save energy in its buildings. Although there’s no solar on city buildings yet, Gibson said, discussions on implementing that have begun.

“We’re just in the beginning phases,” he said.

Additionally, Gibson said a small area behind Town Hall could be a candidate for solar development.

Gibson, 63, who grew up in the Springfield and Agawam area, said the winters are different than when he was young. He also noted Southampton was affected by two intense storms this year that knocked down power lines and trees.

“We are seeing different weather patterns,” Gibson said.

Westhampton

Cheryl Provost, the administrative assistant to the Westhampton Board of Selectmen, noted Westhampton is an agricultural community.

“We don’t face some of the gas emissions that cities do,” she said.

Westhampton was designated as a Green Community last year, and has adopted the necessary criteria.

Provost said that there’s been a focus on solar in town, and that the library already has solar panels in on it. She also said an area of town has been reserved for municipal solar, should Westhampton pursue it.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


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