Chilmark establishes permanent climate committee

Healthy Aging M.V. to survey Chilmark seniors as part of Vineyard campaign.

Chilmark is poised to establish a permanent climate committee. — Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark selectmen endorsed a standing climate change committee, following reports selectman Jim Malkin gave about the progress of the town’s climate change working group. Malkin chaired that working group. The working group was voted in last October, and charged with, among other things, assessing and prioritizing the town’s needs in the face of changing climate. The board took no vote on establishing the committee, but both chair Bill Rossi and selectman Warren Doty told Malkin they backed the idea.

“I support it 100 percent,” Doty said. 

On Sept. 3 Malkin gave his first report to the board, and explained he and his colleagues evaluated climate threats to the town that would manifest over the next 30 years. 

Rob Doyle, Lenny Jason, Don Leopold, Gary Mottau, Peter Neilley, and Jane Slater joined Malkin on the working group. 

“Basically, in the next 30-year period, we’re looking at temperatures rising by 2° to 4° Fahrenheit on average throughout the year,” Malkin said, “about a six-inch mean sea level rise, storm severity will increase slightly, rainfall 3 to 8 percent increase, drought periods significantly [increased] — 20 to 50 percent more likely.”

He added the likelihood Chilmark will see a major hurricane will increase 5 to 10 percent.

In concrete terms, Malkin said, “the Menemsha docks at their current height, every 5½ days at high tide, will be flooded.”

Shoreline erosion, he said, is already evident. “If you go down to Lucy Vincent Beach, you see a number of things that are washing away or have washed away,” he said. 

Malkin noted the risk of wildfire will increase, and will be exacerbated by drought conditions. 

“Fires could be very, very dangerous here,” he said. “We will see increased frequency of well and septic issues from more variable water tables.” 

Access and egress issues during and after wildfires, “particularly along our three major roads,” require analysis and planning, he said. 

“One of the things we really need to do is work on our emergency planning for secondary resources,” he said. “For example, should we have a contractor on a retainer, so if we have a major issue here and we have to get the roads cleared?”

He suggested a stockpile of generators at the fire department could help provide electricity for pumping potable water if power lines go down.

Malkin stressed there was a need to increase communication methods that will reach seasonal and year-round residents, and a need to boost education opportunities for those people  “particularly in terms of forest fire — what should you or shouldn’t you have on your property, near your homes and your buildings.”

Budgets and fiscal planning will need to take climate change into account, Malkin noted, and he said the town should consider exploring as many grant opportunities as it can. 

Malkin noted logistics are of concern too. “We need to assign responsibilities: getting people down-Island to the  hospital, or to shelters,” he said. 

Malkin said what’s important is for the town to get moving on the issues, rather than waiting on them. 

On Tuesday, in a follow-up report, Malkin recommended harbormaster Ryan Rossi be given as much assistance as possible to repair, upgrade, and potentially raise Menemsha docks. 

Malkin said Peter Neilley will work with the harbormaster on grants, applications, and permitting relative to dock work. 

“What about the citizens who wish to help [out], who say, have chainsaws and pickup trucks and could be deployed in the event of an emergency?” Malkin said. “How do we coordinate them? How do we identify them?”

He also asked how to get more coverage in the Island’s firetower. 

Malkin said he and Lenny Jason would suss such things out, and explore the idea of stockpiling generators, among other initiatives, while Rob Doyle and Gary Mottau will work on ways to better communicate with residents, and to educate them on preventive measures against wildfire and other dangers. 

Town administrator Tim Carroll will work with Don Leopold on the long-term financial implications climate change will have on the town, and will research grants, he said.  

Malkin said the new committee will continue to assess vulnerabilities in Chilmark, and work to find safeguards and solutions, and will meet with similar groups in other Vineyard towns as well as with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.  

The committee will be built from the members of the working group, with others welcome to join, he said. 

Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard survey

Cindy Trish, executive director of Healthy Aging M.V., came before the board along with the organization’s chair, Paddy Moore, to pitch a survey of seniors. The survey is slated to start at the end of September and run through October and November, and will be Island-wide. Five years ago, Healthy Aging M.V. surveyed all Vineyard full-time residents Island residents 65 and older, and got “an astounding 49 percent response rate,” she said. 

That information proved instrumental “in terms of identifying and prioritizing services for older adults, as well as thinking more long-term about the infrastructure that we need to have in place,” she said. 

Five years ago, Trish noted, 182 Chilmark residents participated in the survey. “At the time, 19 percent of Chilmark residents actually lived alone, and interestingly, 22 percent reported they had fallen in the past year,” she said. “And that’s the kind of information that fueled Island-wide discussions about where the white space was for new services and new programs to support the resounding desire of all older adults to be able to age in place and to do what they needed to do to their homes in order to make it safe and deliver. For example, out of that research came the Home Safety Modification Program that is just underway, which will be a turnkey program for all Island older adults, to be able to go to one place and to be able to get the support in what needs to be done to make their house safer, and when they need financial support, to have that covered.”

Trish noted college students will help with the upcoming survey. “We have the pleasure of working with Boston University,” she said. “We’ve been accepted through their Metro-Bridge program to work with graduate students there, who will be actually doing the data collection and the analysis of the results.” 

Many of the topics covered five years ago will return, Trish said, like housing, transportation, community engagement, and wellness. 

“We also are going to be focusing heavily on the impact of COVID on our seniors going forward,” she said, “as well as really focusing on where our older adults want to contribute to the Island, because in addition to thinking about the needs, we also have an amazing asset in the expertise and the experience of our older adults — a better understanding of what they do and where they want to help.”

There will also be an age reduction, she noted, that will bring the age threshold to 60 years old, as opposed to 65. 

“We’ve also decided to include seasonal residents,” she said. “There’s a continuing question on the Island of what are the plans of seasonal residents with our situation as it is today. And we want to learn more about the acceleration of desires to live on the Island full-time, changes in work status, that type of thing.”

The survey will come one of two ways. “We will be mailing it out to all homeowners over the age of 60,” she said. “We will also have the option of having anyone take it online, if that’s their preference.”

Rossi asked Healthy Aging M.V. could access grant money for low-cost generators for seniors in need.

Moore said she found the idea intriguing. She said she wasn’t sure it dovetailed with the survey, but nevertheless she thought it could be explored. 

Carroll asked if the Vineyard’s emergency managers could add a question on the survey relative to “the connection between the elderly population and emergency services.” 

Malkin supported the idea. 

“One of the things you’ll recall from the climate working group,” Malkin said, “is the issue of communication to people during extreme weather events, forest fires and so on … there definitely needs to be thought given to how we communicate with our citizens about these issues, both in terms of what they need and in terms of what we might be planning to provide, and how do we finance that.” 

Trish and Moore said they were amenable to exploring what could be done. 

Trish asked the board if they would draft a town letter to support the survey to make sure seniors “feel comfortable” they are receiving the mailing from “a credible source.”

The board was in favor of the idea. Rossi tapped Carroll to co-draft the letter with Trish. 

In other business, the board observed a moment of silence for former West Tisbury selectman John Early, retired restaurateur Will Holtham, and former Chilmark finance committee member Frank Yeomans, who all recently passed away