On Thursday night, about 30 Aquinnah residents put their heads together to continue a discussion about how to prioritize adaptation strategies in response to sea level rise, storm surge, flooding, and other principal hazards presented by climate change.
The listening session was part of the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) certification process, a state program that provides Massachusetts cities and towns grants to complete climate resilience projects upon program completion. Aquinnah is on track to receive MVP designation in 2020, joining Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Chilmark.
Back in November, Aquinnah hosted its required all-day MVP planning meeting with about 40 residents, to prioritize hazards and come up with climate adaptation strategies. Thursday’s meeting was a regroup. “Are we on the right track? Or did we leave some things out?” asked Bill Lake, co-chair of the Aquinnah energy and climate committee, and core member of the MVP project. Other core members include Noli Taylor, Gabriella Camilleri, Jeffrey Madison, and Beckie Scotten Finn.
“We’re honing in on what our priorities should be, and what we want to ask the state for money for,” Taylor said, noting that once Aquinnah completes its MVP certification, it can file reports and project proposals for state funding.
The principal hazards identified at the workshop were sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding, windstorms, drought, wildfire, sea-surface temperature rise, and ocean acidification. Participants also brainstormed features of the town, which include roads, culverts, power grids, and communication utilities; plus natural features like Lobsterville Beach, West Basin, Dogfish Bar, Gay Head Cliffs, ponds, coastal waters, and wetlands; and human-centric features including the Gay Head Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah and Natural Resource Department. Demographic features include an aging and seasonal population. Based on this “full matrix,” a list of top-rated project priorities were outlined in the November meeting:
- Micro-grid installation to help mitigate carbon dioxide emissions. Micro-grids would be installed at town-owned buildings as backup, and be photovoltaic, or battery-powered.
- Create a plan for State Road should areas become impassable due to flooding. Residents suggested engaging an engineer to evaluate State Road to identify vulnerable spots and research alternatives for access roads.
- “Hardening the grid,” i.e. finding ways to reduce the frequency and duration of power and communication outages. Moving wires underground, communication tower installation, and securing a complementary generator for distributed antenna system (DAS) were among suggested projects.
- Removing wildfire fuel. Suggested projects included developing a land management plan, prescribing burns for undergrowth, continuing tree trimming, and implementing a wildfire management plan for Moshup and Clay Pit Road.
- Increase capacity of town hall for emergency response/daytime sheltering purposes. Micro-grid installation, upgrading bathrooms to meet universal needs, and improving functionality of space occupied by police were among suggestions.
- Create affordable housing incentives that make it easier for younger people to stay in town. Residents suggested exploring mixed-use zoning for affordable, climate-forward housing. Playground and food forest installation behind the town hall were suggested. It was also noted that 10 percent of Aquinnah’s population is over 65 years old, and that in 2035, that number will increase to 50 percent.
Building off this list, residents Thursday added the need for identifying and protecting fresh water sources that don’t rely on electricity: one for fighting fires, and one for potable water. One resident brought up the importance of Cooks Spring, a body of water with a dated pipe; although frequently tested, the water is deemed nonpotable. “That pipe hasn’t been replaced since the 1930s,” the resident said. “To me, that’s something we might consider for an MVP grant.” Another resident suggested installing hand pumps throughout the town, and others suggested the importance of identifying artesian wells — a confined aquifer that doesn’t need a pump to bring water to the surface.
Creating a comprehensive list of residents with generators willing to share their homes also came up. Lake added that battery technology is progressing, and it won’t be long before people can power their homes on charged batteries during an emergency.
“We were the last town in the state to have electricity, we’re the first one to lose it, and we’re the last one to get it back on,” Isaac Taylor said, reiterating the importance of having off-the-grid power sources.
Another resident suggested the possibility of creating a number to text to reach first responders during a storm. Residents brought up alternative evacuation routes that depart from Aquinnah, and the possibility of revamping Pilots Landing or West Basin as backup storm ports. Aquinnah is working closely with Chilmark to discuss town needs and where they might overlap.
The town also identified action that doesn’t need funding from the state — action that could start today. Assessing culverts for areas in need of upgrades was one suggestion, and Scotten Finn, who’s already trained in inspecting culverts, said she could help train others. Evacuation plan development with distributable maps also came up, as did improving Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) education.
As part of the MVP process, the group will host another listening session to loop more residents into the conversation. It will then file a report with conclusions to the state. Once approved, Aquinnah can apply for grants and begin its MVP projects. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission will also help fund climate resilience projects. MVP reports were already filed and approved in Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Tisbury, West Tisbury, and Chilmark.