TUPPER LAKE — Extreme precipitation events were the topic of a forum held recently at the Wild Center here.
Local government officials, community planners and others who work closely with municipal and county governments in the Adirondack region discussed their experiences and official predictions of extreme weather events caused by climate change, which are expected to be more severe in the future.
“Irene cost $16 billion; Jay alone is $3 million in debt from that storm,” Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas told those at the gathering. “It was the seventh-most costly disaster in U.S. history, and seventh out of the 10 worst disasters since 2000.
“Towns cannot afford repairs alone for these events.”
Many attendees observed that local weather patterns are changing, and that as those responsible for community welfare, they plan to consider some new ways of doing business that require internal and external input in preparing for weather emergencies, including:
▶ More streamlined communications internally within towns and externally with support agencies, such as the State Department of Transportation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
▶ Better floodplain maps, data and hydraulic analyses to predict vulnerabilities and justify upgrades to infrastructure.
▶ Long-term planning and budgeting and additional funding for infrastructure upgrades to meet flood prediction requirements (such as right-sized culverts, higher bridges and vital services located outside floodplains).
▶ General-public, town-council and municipal-employee awareness of the issues and guidance for preparing for and responding to extreme weather events.
In late 2011 the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which funded the forum, released its ClimAID report, which outlines the predicted changes New York’s communities can anticipate from climate change, in sectors ranging from flooding to drought to health to vulnerable infrastructure to energy grid outages.
That report was discussed at the session.
In a survey completed by attendees, 92 percent said they had experienced extreme weather events — often multiple times — in their community recently.
“Small Adirondack-region communities are often constrained from getting vital information they may need for budgeting, planning to meet future infrastructure needs and preparing for unforeseen circumstances by the virtue of their size and geographic isolation,” said Kara Page, the workshop organizer, in a press release.
“They frequently have only a few thousand residents, part-time supervisors, few staff, tight budgets, and extremely limited time, yet they have extensive mandates for maintaining local infrastructure, economy and well-being,”
The forum included a special presentation using the Wild Center’s new global display system Planet Adirondack to show what scientists know about the “Wild Weather of 2011-2012” presented by Curt Stager, professor at Paul Smith’s College.
Corrie Miller, executive director of the Ausable River Association, gave an example of an adaptation project to expand culverts for fish and wildlife passage and to anticipate flooding pressure.
And an overview of State Department of Transportation climate preparations was presented.
The forum raised some tough issues.
“I’m concerned because our infrastructure facilities are built to last at least 100 years and they are lasting only 50 years now,” said Anthony LaVigne, superintendent of the Essex County Department of Public Works.
“For example, I’m seeing bridge abutment footings exposed and roadsides washing out every year. After 28 years with Essex County, I think, and everyone else knows, there is definitely something happening and we need to address it.”
“I’d like to see accurate flood maps in place for local preparedness,” said Town of Plattsburgh Councilor Tom Wood. “Now that we know what can happen, that will help us plan for our communities and respond to events.”
Event materials are available online at http://www.adkcap.org/projects/municipalities-
and-climate-change. A second workshop is planned for early 2013. Contact Kara Page for more information at 359-7800, Ext. 129.
Find the ClimAID report at: http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/ClimAID.