Last week’s powerful nor’easter was a not so subtle reminder of the impact weather can have on our lives and of the special challenges we face as a coastal community. Fortunately, this time, we fared pretty well compared to other towns and cities. The largest impacts we saw were the flooding behind Town Hall and along Bennet Brook as well as at the harbor marinas. Once again, a big thank you is due our DPW crew who worked long hours to keep the streets passable and got things cleaned up in good order the next day.
Luckily electricity stayed on allowing us all to say warm in our own homes. Had there been widespread outages, the high school with its generator would have been opened as a shelter. Our emergency management team, headed up by Fire Chief George Kramlinger and Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Kehoe, was prepared to activate the school as a refuge providing a warm place to sleep and eat if necessary. A reverse 911 call would have alerted impacted neighborhoods of this option had the storm taken out power for more than a few hours.
The impressive storm surge combined with an extra high tide provided a vivid demonstration of our vulnerability to coastal flooding. A number of cars were ruined by the high water that flooded the Town Hall parking lot; minor damage was done by seawater getting into Town Hall as well as Seaside 1 and the back of the Fire Station. Masconomo and Reed Parks were under water as well with a short section of Beach Street being flooded. Home damage occurred along a flooded Bennet Brook as the surge moved upstream. In the future we will have to come up with alternative parking and a better alert system during snow emergencies given what happened to the Town Hall parking lot.
Larger storms and continued sea-level rise means that we will face even bigger flooding challenges in the future. How we prepare for these challenges over the next few years will determine how well we will fare when future storms hit. Grant funded work to date includes developing inundation maps and identifying our vulnerable areas and assets. How best to manage flooding along Sawmill Brook has also been a focus of analysis. As this last storm so clearly showed, the area from Town Hall over to the train station is one of our most vulnerable.
Armed with a new grant from the state, a new public outreach and education effort will soon be getting underway that illuminates our most vulnerable areas and identifies action steps we can take to better protect ourselves from future flooding. This work is under the state’s new Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program. A steering committee will help guide the work which is slated to be completed by the end of June, 2018. A couple of public workshops will be scheduled, most likely in March and April. Interested in serving on the steering committee? Send a note to the Selectmen’s Office and we will contact you about next steps.
Mother Nature is a force that demands our attention. Taking steps now to help us deal with what we are facing in the future will avoid costly damage and ensure our community continues to thrive.