Chilmark forms climate change working group

The bridge over Hariph's Creek near Quitsa Landing is vulnerable to climate change induced flooding according Chilmark officials. — Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to form a five- to seven-member climate change working group to address the needs of the town and to work with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Selectman Jim Malkin said the group would, among other duties, review existing Chilmark data on climate change, gather Chilmark residents’ concerns about climate change at open meetings, formulate a priority list for Chilmark’s climate change needs and risks, and confer with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) on climate change issues, and offer aid and support to the MVC on climate issues, if needed. The group would prioritize local climate change needs, but also explore regional issues. 

Selectman Bill Rossi said he thought it was wise to both gauge regional and local risks. 

Malkin said it was moot, as far as planning is concerned, how climate phenomena affecting Chilmark happened. Instead, it’s important to accept the reality that it poses a clear danger to Chilmark that requires solutions. “There’s no question we’re facing sea level rise,” he said. “There’s no question we’re facing warming. What are we going to do about it?” Malkin said prioritizing risks is paramount. 

Chairman Warren Doty agreed Chilmark needed to stay focused, and try not to spend too much energy on subjects not immediately relative to Chilmark’s needs.

“There are regional issues, actually, that we have to come to terms with,” finance committee chairman Rob Hannemann said. “One of the major expenses for our Island is going to be to protect our harbors.” Hannemann noted the MVC’s climate task force has taken a two-pronged approach: What does the Vineyard need to adapt, and how can its energy production become more resilient and more carbon-neutral?

While the Vineyard is front and center to receive climate change impact, Hannemann said only “five ten-thousandths of a percent of the world’s greenhouse gases” are generated on-Island.

As the board noted at their last meeting, the Hariph’s Creek Bridge by Quitsa Landing appears particularly vulnerable, specifically to storm surge. Doty said it was solidly built, but could be inundated. 

“It should be able to handle a lot more than the old wooden one,” Rossi said. 

The selectmen tasked the yet-to-be-assembled working group with reporting back in four months, or at the latest, before the 2020 annual town meeting.