Whately partners with Conway School to launch climate resilience planning


Staff Writer

Published: 01-20-2023 12:39 PM

WHATELY — As the town examines land around Exit 35 on Interstate 91, it is partnering with a local sustainable design school to take inventory of the environmental resources available.

Members of Whately’s new Climate Resilience Planning Committee will be working with the Conway School of Landscape Design to create a climate resilience plan that will follow up on the town’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness work. Committee members include Select Board Chair Joyce Palmer-Fortune and member Julie Waggoner, as well as Eli Snow-Rackley and Becky Jones.

“The students are going to create a climate resilience plan for us and our hope is it will fill in the gaps MVP left,” explained Hannah Davis, Whately’s former community development administrator.

Among the topics students will explore are housing, green energy solutions, watershed conditions and carbon sequestration. Conway School Projects Manager CJ Lammers noted one of the key points students will examine is what ecological resources are available in the Exit 35 area.

“They’re looking at that interchange and looking at what ecological resources are there before they start planning the redesign of that area, which is really terrific,” Lammers said. “You have to not only plan for where you want to build, you also have to plan for where you don’t want to build.”

Over the course of the Conway School’s winter semester, which ends in March, students will work with the Climate Resilience Planning Committee and use GIS mapping and other data to determine what sorts of resources are available and what options the town has. The students will also hold two public engagement sessions to get community feedback on their plans.

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Lammers said this sort of planning work is essential in mitigating the effects of climate change, but without help from an organization like the Conway School, it often doesn’t get done because the projects are both optional and sometimes expensive.

“It results in a patchwork quilt kind of landscape” Lammers said of the varying levels of climate resiliency planning in Massachusetts. “The state, to me, is starting to turn around with these statewide policies, but in my opinion, there needs to be state and regional planning for us to really get a grip on climate change.”

The Conway School has a history of working with communities near and far on climate resiliency projects. In the last year, the school has helped Plainfield develop a climate resiliency plan with recommendations for biodiversity, green infrastructure and energy systems. The school is also helping Chesterfield develop an Open Space and Recreation Plan.

As for Whately, Davis said work by the students and the Climate Resilience Planning Committee is “pretty broad right now,” but their focus will be narrowed down in subsequent meetings. The committee met on Jan. 12 and another meeting has yet to be posted on the town website.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.