What makes Sterling strong?
Where is Sterling vulnerable?
What are the most important actions to take to keep Sterling strong?
How are the answers to those questions affected by our changing climate?
In September of 2020, 33 of us in Sterling participated in a workshop to answer these questions about our strengths, vulnerabilities, and priorities. This is the first step in developing our Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan. This month, until October 7, you too can participate, by viewing the Listening Session, reading the draft Summary of Findings Report and using the Feedback Form to provide your comments on the town website. (See the MVP information on the “News” feed at sterling-ma.gov)
Why have a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan? Our climate is changing, and we would be smart to prepare. We in Sterling can’t stop climate change, but we aren’t helpless. We can’t stop a hurricane coming, but we can bring in the lawn furniture. Or is our top priority getting plywood on the windows? Do we even have plywood?
We need a plan, for every aspect of town life that is impacted by climate change. We need to tackle this as a town, not as individuals. Because, let’s face it, our vulnerabilities are shared because our roads, emergency services, power lines, and water supplies and other resources are shared.
MVP is a program funded by the Commonwealth. It gives us a framework for planning for climate change resilience and prioritizing actions. The Massachusetts legislature’s approach to managing the commonwealth’s climate response is to invite each municipality to identify its own strengths, threats, and actions, and create their own Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan. Smart move! Who knows Sterling better than us, Sterling? Once our MVP is in place, Sterling becomes eligible for follow-up grant funding and other opportunities. Massachusetts has allocated $10 million for 2020 MVP Action grants. Sterling’s MVP planning effort is funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy of Affairs & Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. Pare Corporation, a civil engineering firm, and in association with Linnean Solutions, are our consultants in developing our plan.
Here are some examples of action grants to towns for MVP in 2019:
- Millbury — $1 million for Armory Village Green Infrastructure Project
- Pittsfield — $814,524 for Churchill Brook and West Street Culvert Replacement Project
- Southwick — $128,056 for Klaus Anderson Road/Johnson Brook Road-Stream Crossing Redesign, Floodplain Restoration and Green Stormwater Management
- Spencer — $370,492 fir Green Infrastructure Implementation in Downtown Spencer, Mechanic Street Parking Lot
MVP is gives us an opportunity to get help fixing some of Sterling’s long-term problems, positioning us for the future.
Our consultant led us through workshops (on Zoom) to identify our top strengths, hazards to those strengths, our vulnerabilities to those hazards, and actions we should consider taking to make Sterling more resilient in the face of those hazards. How can we reduce the impact of the hazards? What can we change or create to make us stronger?
At the workshop, we identified Sterling’s strengths as being the quality of our water, the beauty of our open spaces and forests, our agricultural resources, and the strong community bonds that have helped sustain us during this very difficult year.
The 33 of us broadly agreed on the top four hazards that leave Sterling vulnerable. They are extreme weather events, such as tornadoes; loss of agriculture and biodiversity, such as our white pines and ash trees succumbing to insect infestations; high intensity rainfalls which are occurring more frequently; and droughts severe enough to affect agriculture and the water table.
These four hazards threaten our infrastructure, environment, and society in many interconnected ways, resulting in these top vulnerabilities:
Wells and Water System: The Town of Sterling’s Water system consist of 4 wells, 2 water towers, and 68 miles of water main throughout Town. Approximately 80% of Town is serviced by the public water system and 20% of town is serviced through private wells. Every year, water capacity and quality in Town is a concern. Furthermore, as development in town expands, the permitted withdrawal rate through MassDEP is only projected to grow by 5% over time. The capacity, quality, and age of the infrastructure is a vulnerability for residents, especially for the fire protection system. Storm run off and drought imperil the quality and quantity of our water.
Roadways, Culverts and Stormwater Management: The roadways throughout Town are in degraded condition primarily as a result of drainage issues. Culverts and drainage network throughout Town are inadequate and lack the capacity to convey stormwater resulting in flooding during increasingly heavy rain events, and resulting erosion leading to degradation of roadway quality. Particular areas of concern are Kendall Hill Road, Chase Hill Road, Swett Hill Road, and the Town Beach. Storm events can leave local roads impassable and not only washes out portions of the roads, but the runoff contributes to washouts downstream at the Town Beach.
Land Use: The various land uses currently existing in the Town of Sterling are an asset that is currently at risk. The farming community is vulnerable to economic and environmental pressure to convert land away from agricultural uses. The open space and forested land are currently owned primarily by DCR and provide ecological value and community character. Preservation of the agricultural land and open space is can compete with the Town’s interest in encouraging and enabling residential growth and economic development. Proper planning can set the Town of Sterling up for success to preserve land uses important to the town and efficiently enable growth.
What should we do to keep Sterling strong?
The MVP workshop concluded by identifying actions to promote Sterling’s future strengths — the top four priorities for increasing Sterling’s resilience. These priorities fall in four categories: Water Supply System and Groundwater Quality; Roadway Improvements and Stormwater Management; Development Planning; and Emergency Services.
I. Water Supply System and Groundwater Quality:
- Inventory and assess the existing infrastructure components and identify and prioritize improvements.
- Increase redundancy of the water system by investigating and establishing additional wells and exploring opportunities to work with MWRA.
- Initiate changes to promote Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure as a way to use stormwater to recharge groundwater and protect groundwater quality.
- Identify and implement ways to reduce town wide water use over time such as requiring water efficient design, removing irrigation systems from town water, and encouraging greywater and stormwater reuse.
II. Roadway Improvements and Stormwater Management:
- Culvert and Roadway Studies and Improvements
- Wholistic approach to stormwater management
- Change local regulations to incorporate updated rainfall standards for the hydraulic design of stream crossings and other stormwater related infrastructure.
- Work with MassDOT and DCR to Address water quality from Rt 190 runoff.
- Study and implement resizing of culverts and stormwater system.
- Consider a wholistic approach for design, implementing, and maintaining Green Infrastructure Stormwater systems throughout Town.
- Consider the use of impact/betterment fees for new development to support public
- Develop an Asset Management Plan for Roadways, Culverts, and Stormwater Infrastructure.
III. Development Planning:
- Establish an Environmental Advisory Committee in Town to consider environmental impacts of land use and development decisions in Town.
- Review opportunities for “smart growth.” Consider updating land use planning and zoning to plan for future development including growth of uses including residential, industrial, etc. Work to address sprawl control to encourage affordable housing, preserve open space, and density that reduces impact on environments and the cost of town services.
- Slow the loss of our farms. Work to alleviate the pressure of development, and foster continuity of farming, for example by updating land use planning and zoning.
IV. Emergency Services:
- Increase awareness around the existing evacuation routes, shelters, and emergency plans that are already in place.
- Consider developing a central repository for Town information and a marketing plan for Municipal and Town Wide dissemination.
- Address financial burden of extreme weather events by mitigating impacts and funding recovery.
- Establish animal friendly shelters and communicate this to the public, educate public about “go kits” necessary for domestic animals.
- Identify and engage vulnerable populations (for example, the Sholan Terrace population and HMEA Adult Daycare Facility) to improve access to essential emergency services during a major hazard event.
- Conduct a facilities inventory and assessment to assess sheltering capacity and identify potential improvements to expand capacity.
You may not agree with the MVP team’s conclusions. That’s why the Listening Session on the town website is open until October 7 – please share your ideas and knowledge.
Thanks to our MVP planning consultant, Pare Corporation, for the great draft MVP plan which I have excerpted for this article.