Falmouth Town Planners Discuss Climate Change In Long-Range Strategy

Should the town build a sewer system in the area around Little Pond if houses there may be wiped away in 20 years from a climate change-related event? What if the Bourne Bridge blew over in a storm? Should Falmouth Town Hall be moved or put on stilts to create a buffer for the surrounding area in the event of flooding?
These are the questions members of the Falmouth Planning Board have faced when creating a 50- to 100-year comprehensive plan that will include a new chapter on coastal resilience.
Coastal resilience is a method of planning to prepare for sea-level rise, an increase in storms and other climate change-related disasters.
“Where we build and what we build is important,” planning board member James E. Fox said. “If we want to have a strong vibrant community, we’ve got to start to plan how we are going to deal with resiliency across the board, not just on structures but on political and civic responsibilities.”
“If we do face times when structures do get knocked down, we have the opportunity to rebuild them smarter,” Mr. Fox said. “We want the town to be a leader in that,” he said.
On Tuesday night, board members read over and voiced their concerns about a draft version of an introduction written on coastal resilience in Falmouth’s comprehensive plan that assistant town planner Marlene V. McCollem and subcommittee members to the planning board completed last week.
Board member Richard K. Latimer wondered if one section of the document was a statement on the Little Pond sewer service area. The section discussed the location and relocation of water mains, sewer lines, and roadways with respect to vulnerability.
Mr. Latimer said that opposition he hears about Little Pond sewer system is that the homes might not be there in 20 years to be sewered. “I’m wondering how much of a handle we have on that. What is going to happen to Little Pond?”
“We don’t know,” board chairman Patricia H. Kerfoot said. The point of the discussion on resiliency, she said, was to look ahead 50 or 100 years.
“This is an issue out there right now going to a vote,” Mr. Latimer said. “This committee is saying that the location of sewer lines must be reevaluated with respect to vulnerability. Is that our position on Question 1?”
Question 1 will ask voters to approve a $49.8 million comprehensive wastewater management plan, including the installation of sewers to houses surrounding Little Pond.
“No, not at all,” Ms. Kerfoot said. The section on the resiliency chapter about sewer lines was about the stretch on the bike path, she said.
Mr. Fox said that Mr. Latimer’s remarks were off point. He said that the proposed Little Pond sewer lines do not abut the ocean and were not in immediate danger. There were two rows of houses and streets in between the proposed lines and the ocean, he said.
“This language we put in there relates to the [sewer line] on the bike path that has been knocked out several times,” Mr. Fox said. The Little Pond area is a future topic for the board, he said. When the streets are gone and the rows of houses are gone, “then your point will be well taken,” Mr. Fox said.
Mr. Latimer said that he was in strong support of the Little Pond sewer system and was only playing devil’s advocate.
Ms. Kerfoot said that their job is not to make decisions now but to look ahead and to put forth policies for the town if, for example, the Bourne Bridge fell down during a Category 3 hurricane.
“We don’t know if in 20 years all of those houses [on Little Pond] will be gone,” planning board member Robert J. Leary said. “In 20 years they could all be on stilts.” Coming up with a plan for private homes was not the responsibility of the board, he said. “We’re looking at what the town can do, and where we can put our town facilities.”
In a planning board subcommittee meeting held last week, three members of the planning board, Mr. Fox, Mr. Leary, and Ms. Kerfoot, met to review the introduction. Mr. Fox discussed the possibility of either removing or putting town hall on stilts. The plot of land underneath town hall was a wetland and restoring it to its natural state would serve as a buffer for the surrounding area, he said.
He said that removing or raising town hall would act as an example that they were serious about coastal resiliency. He said that the subcommittee had no authority to relocate the building, but he was brainstorming ideas.
Planning board member Ralph E. Herbst said that the newly written introduction has good points, but he was concerned that these ideas would be difficult to do.
One section reads, “The town may choose a strategy of restoring and enlarging wetlands and marshes to provide a natural buffer between developed areas and the coast to provide flood water storage.” Mr. Herbst said he agreed with the statement but that doing it would be another question.
Mr. Herbst had the same concerns to another section that read, “It will be increasingly important to build local networks and skillsets that can keep the community functioning under great duress until normal operations can be reestablished.”
Ms. Kerfoot said that Mr. Herbst’s concerns were on point. Acting on them will be difficult and will take time but she restated that the plan is for the next 50 to 100 years.
“Resiliency is the ability to bounce back. You don’t want to lose 50 percent of the population if we are hit by a hurricane or something like that,” Mr. Leary said. “We want to have policies in place so that we can absorb a hit and function quickly afterwards.”

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