Vineyard receives vulnerability preparedness grants

State funds will help create locally driven climate action plan for the Island and Gosnold. 

Gov. Charlie Baker announces the next round of Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program grants at a televised event in Easthampton, MA., of which Martha's Vineyard and Gosnold received $173,843.

Martha’s Vineyard and Gosnold received $173,843 Tuesday in order to complete phase two of a comprehensive climate action plan for the Dukes County communities. 

The money is the latest installment of grant funds from the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which seeks to provide communities with funding and technical support to identify climate hazards, develop strategies to improve resilience, and implement priority actions to adapt to climate change. 

In 2017, the Baker-Polito administration established the program with $500,000 in the coffers for communities in the commonwealth, and this year the program has grown to $21 million in grants, with 93 percent of Massachusetts communities currently participating.

According to Beth Card, undersecretary of environmental policy and climate resilience for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the program is especially critical for coastal communities like Martha’s Vineyard that will face the brunt of increasingly severe storms and sea level rise caused by climate change. “We want to make sure we can continue to be both a technical and financial resource for those communities,” Card said.

The majority of funding for the Vineyard and Gosnold will go toward developing a final climate action plan, along with an interactive dashboard and website that will be publicly available for citizens, climate planners, and local government officials.

Along with the plan, the grant funds will contribute to an implementation strategy focused on nature-based solutions and things that individuals and municipalities can do to bolster climate resilience.

“One of the things that is important about this project is it’s really focused on including environmental justice and vulnerable populations, and focuses a lot on community engagement,” Card said. “We know that projects that have a lot of public awareness and support are going to be successful when you get to the implementation phase.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has announced that as part of his American Rescue Plan Act funding, he intends to dedicate $1 billion to environmental infrastructure, with $300 million of that going toward climate resilience.

According to Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) climate change planner Liz Durkee, the primary goal for the funding is to develop a comprehensive, locally driven climate action plan for the Vineyard and Gosnold. 

She said the plan will be established in collaboration with town planners and local government, and will be built around six thematic areas related to climate change impacts: land use and natural resources, transportation and infrastructure, public health and safety, food security, economic resilience, and energy transformation. “All these issues we are facing are all interconnected, so it is going to take a lot of collaboration to make progress,” Durkee said.

According to Durkee, working groups for each theme will be established that will involve the assistance of planners, health officials, food professionals, and other people with knowledge of the issues.

These individuals will work with MVC adaptation master plan subcommittee member Meghan Gombos to come up with adaptation strategies for vulnerable areas on Martha’s Vineyard.

Durkee stressed that the work the MVC and others are doing surrounding the MVP grants seeks to keep as much of the funding on the Island as possible.

Over the next year, Durkee, Gombos, and fellow climate planners will develop a dashboard website that will be used to implement the plan, disseminate information, and gather feedback.

“It’s going to be a very busy year for us,” Durkee said. “This is not going to be a plan that sits on the shelf — once the plan is finalized, my job will be to start working with the towns to allocate funding and implement these goals.”

For Durkee, climate change is an “all hands on deck issue” that requires community members to be informed about the impacts the Island is already seeing, what can be expected in the near future, and how individuals can make a difference.

Even as the daunting challenges of climate change present themselves more and more, Durkee said, she sees the initiative as an opportunity to make the Island a safer, more resilient place, and improve the quality of life for everyone who lives here. “I’m not looking at this as a doom-and-gloom scenario,” Durkee said. “This is a chance to make progress on this really important work.”

At a televised announcement for the program in Easthampton Tuesday, Baker said during this summer, Massachusetts experienced four significant heat waves, more than 25 days over 90°, two tropical storms, a record amount of precipitation in July, and heavy flooding across the state.

He noted that the impact of Hurricane Ida on New Orleans and surrounding communities highlights the issue of climate change as an immediate concern that must be addressed with swift action. “While there has been a significant amount of resiliency work done in and around New Orleans, which probably prevented some really horrific things from occurring there, it’s pretty obvious to them, and I would hope to the rest of us, that this issue is a now issue, it’s not a tomorrow or the day after issue,” Baker said. “We need to continue to invest aggressively in both our mitigation strategies and in our resiliency efforts as well.”