Mattapoisett has secured FEMA grant funds for studying the town’s ability to protect community assets in the event of flooding. Public buildings, bridges, roadways, and storm water culverts were among the types of assets the town department heads discussed on February 6.
The grant money afforded the town the opportunity to hire outside consultants to help various departments identify the type of assets critical to the town and then prepare a plan for protecting and/or repairing them after a storm event.
Michael Ohl, Principal and Senior Engineer, along with Natalie Koncki, Environmental Scientist, of Comprehensive Environmental Inc chaired the meeting along with Chief Mary Lyons of the Mattapoisett Police Department.
During a previous meeting, the department heads from inspectional services, Council on Aging, Conservation Commission, assessors’ office, fire suppression, water and sewer, highways, and police identified locations, buildings, infrastructure, and services that they considered to be town assets. They have identified: Center and Old Hammondtown Schools; all of Water Street; parts of Route 6 and River Road; town wharves; parts of Main Street; North Street; water treatment plant; all beach neighborhoods; YMCA; library; childcare centers; and the dam at River Road to name a few. They will continue to add to the list of sensitive locations, buildings, services and infrastructure assets over the coming weeks.
Ohl guided the group through the impact of flooding on the community using maps that modeled storm surges and floodwaters. The impact of flooding to coastal areas was obvious, but the upland impact was shocking. He explained that during a flood, emergency water keeps pushing inland and constricting into upland streams and rivers. Once the water reaches those upland waterways, it has no place to go but out to surrounding land. These waters take much longer to drain away than from coastal locations. One map modeled floodwaters pushing as far north as Tinkham Hill and Wolf Island Road.
Another aspect of the study is to document historical storm events as far back as the collective memory can recall. By using the impact of those events, the group will have another piece of the preparedness puzzle to help scope out their responses.
Possibly the most important piece of the puzzle discussed by the assembled was the human assets: the residents. The group was told by Ohl that being able to provide clear directives to community members, especially senior citizens, was critical.
On the topic of evacuation, Chief Lyons said that she could not mandate citizens to evacuate. She said her department could only suggest and implore people to leave for higher ground. Lyons said that once people decide to stay in place, they stand the chance of being trapped or endangered because emergency services can’t reach them.
Jacqueline Coucci, Executive Director for the Council on Aging, asked about emergency shelter if people don’t have any place to go. Lyons said the town has not offered that in the past. Coucci expressed concern that some seniors may not have anywhere to go and, faced with that dismal reality, might stay home. Lyons said “People have to be able to sustain themselves for up to 72 hours.” Coucci countered that she will plan to educate the population she serves with information that will help them understand the importance of having supplies and a place to go. Lyons concurred that education was critical for everyone. Other populations that might need extra help were also discussed, and Lyons felt confident that the town could do a great deal to assist those persons. Lyons said that her department can provide educational sessions at the COA so that seniors can learn how to be prepared for the worst. Coucci accepted that offer and said she would also plan some education through the COA newsletter.
There was some conversation about the ongoing problems around FEMA flood plain maps and rising insurance costs. Ohl said that postponing implementation of the maps was like “kicking the can down the road.” He said that the federal flood insurance program was not in good shape.
The group talked about signage around town that might help the community visualize what high floodwater would really mean. Director of Inspectional Services Andy Bobola said that during Hurricane Bob, the water reached 10 feet, that during Carol in 1954 it reached 11 feet, and it was 13 feet during the Hurricane of 1938. He also said that the town lost 108 residential structures during Hurricane Bob.
With this plan as a prerequisite to securing FEMA funds for storm remediation in the future, the department heads will continue to scope out all the areas of concern, historical data, and detailed impact on water and sewer and storm water drainage with the consultants.
By Marilou Newell