State grants to help communities adapt to climate threats

  • Jordan Foucher, left, and Steven Nguyen push their stalled car out of a flooded section of Elm Street in Northampton in September 2015. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2018 11:05:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Bolstering its efforts to respond to threats posed by climate change, the city will use a $400,000 state grant to design infrastructure that will divert stormwater before it reaches areas prone to flooding.

The grant, awarded by the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, illustrates that the city is on the right track in building up its resilience to the effects of a changing climate, Mayor David J. Narkewicz said Monday.

“I’m very pleased and proud the city’s work in this area has been affirmed and rewarded by the state in some respect,” Narkewicz said.

The announcement by the Baker-Polito administration of $5 million in grants to 34 communities comes in advance of what is known as the “Resilient Northampton” public forum, to be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center, 67 Conz St. The public is invited to the forum to provide feedback on climate vulnerabilities the city faces and solutions that can be found.

Narkewicz said he hopes a spectrum of areas of vulnerability will be covered, including stormwater, the power grid and drought.

City Planner Wayne Feiden said a lot of work is already happening, but public input is needed.

“We want the public to share ideas and priorities for next steps in climate adaptation,” Feiden said. “Most importantly, we want to hear their priorities for what kind of community we want to be.”

In addition to Northampton, other area communities that received the “MVP” grants include Belchertown, which got $151,437 that will go toward a townwide assessment of roads that cross streams and a climate change adaptation plan; Pelham, which earned $137,250 for “Resilient Pelham”; and Deerfield, which obtained $47,325 for implementing a municipal vulnerability preparedness plan.

“Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grants play a critical role in helping communities protect their residents, infrastructure and natural resources from the impacts of climate change,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.

Previously, Northampton received a $20,000 planning grant to support its ongoing climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. With the assistance of outside consultants, a draft vulnerability assessment was created, which identified efforts to deal with stormwater as a top priority.

Narkewicz said the city has already done several stormwater mitigation projects, including along Conz Street and on Pleasant Street near Hockanum Road.

“There are a number of different areas we’re working at as we acknowledge our climate is changing,” Narkewicz said.

Narkewicz noted that Northampton received the largest grant awarded to any municipality in the state in this round.

“It’s a testament to our Office of Planning and Sustainability led by Wayne Feiden,” Narkewicz said.

But, he added, that work has spanned several departments, including central services, health, public works, fire rescue, police and emergency dispatch.

Feiden said these include health officials monitoring mosquito and tick populations; the DPW and Emergency Management creating an emergency response plan to guide responses to larger flood events; and central services planning for a possible microgrid to allow DPW operations, a Smith Vocational regional emergency shelter and Cooley Dickinson Hospital to operate for extended periods during a power failure.

In addition, Feiden said city planners have coordinated regulations so that developers can plant trees that thrive in warmer temperatures and ensure no residential development occurs in the 500-year floodplain. Planners have also purchased open space to protect migration paths for plants and animals in a changing climate and to remove invasive non-native plants.

Northampton has also worked to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels, cut down on energy use from city operations and enacted regulations that would curtail private building energy use, as well as supported the Valley BikeShare program and enhancing walking and pedestrian infrastructure.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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