After damaging winter, Wareham officials identify ways to mitigate severe weather concerns

May 8, 2018

A brutal March brought several storms to the South Coast, knocking out power for days and severely taxing Wareham’s first responders and emergency services. However, a new state program has brought together local leaders, and soon the public, to identify ways to lessen the blow when severe weather hits.

“When you have a nor’easter every week like we did in March, it’s hard to mitigate,” said Onset Fire Chief Ray Goodwin. “Every time we have a major event, it makes it more difficult to manage the next one – especially when they come back-to-back.”

Goodwin, along with police, sewer, water department and planning department, and elected officials took part in a day-long workshop on May 3 focused on preparing for damaging storms. The meeting was part of a grant program called the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program launched two years ago by the state. It’s targeted at cities and towns to help them get ready for weather-related problems.

At the end of the workshop, officials had identified problem areas and possible solutions. At the top of the list – establishing an emergency command center.

“Maintaining our ability to communicate among the different town departments and getting word out to vulnerable neighborhoods during a storm will be vital,” said Director of Planning & Economic Development Kenneth Buckland.

By participating in the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness workshop, Wareham is now eligible for state grants. Buckland said his department is focused on applying for funds to establish a command center, likely in an existing building away from the flood zone, if one is received.

The deadline, May 18, is fast approaching, however.

“We’re hustling right now,” said Buckland. “We want see if we can do something right away. We’re not going to stop the weather from coming so we better be responsive and prepared.”

As for command center plans, officials have some ideas, but nothing that’s “ready for primetime yet,” according to Buckland.

In addition to establishing a command center, officials identified some other areas to take action. They include: develop a beach management plan, adopt zoning regulations to limit new construction in flood zones and create plan to buy land to protect salt marshes.

In the meantime, the public is invited to read a draft report from the workshop, which will soon be available on the town’s website.

The hope is residents will arrive with their own ideas on what areas should be focused on to mitigate the impacts of severe weather at a listening session scheduled for May 29. The session will take place the Board of Selectmen’s regularly scheduled meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

“We want to engage the community as well,” said Elise Leduc, a coastal scientist with the Woods Hole Group. “It’s important that it’s not just town officials making these decisions.”

Leduc and other environmental consultants facilitated the workshop. She noted that the grants from the state will be available for a wide range of uses, adding that the town must provide a 25 percent match. However, that could include in-kind services and not just funds.

“They’re to reduce the town’s vulnerability,” said Leduc. “So much is up for grabs.”