Friday, February 8, 2008
Selectmen learn ins and outs of federal disaster grants
Carlisle could someday become eligible to apply for federal funding to provide for or repair "critical facilities," several of which — fixing dams at the Cranberry Bog and Greenough Pond, a generator to power the Carlisle School in an emergency — have been long-standing concerns for town officials. At their January 22 meeting, Christine Wallace, a planner with the greater Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), told the Selectmen that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) might cover up to 75% of the costs of certain "hazard mitigation measures."
Wallace reported about an ongoing MAPC regional project called Metro Boston North/West Regional Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan that will include planning for each participating community within the region. Carlisle's local committee — consisting of fire, police, public works, conservation, planning, health representatives and Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie — has developed a list of 76 critical facilities and sites in town which are the basis for specific recommendations to counter risks.
Floods, storms greatest hazards
A 2004 state plan rated both the severity of particular risks and the frequency of their occurrence in the state. According to Wallace, for Carlisle the most frequent severe potential hazards are flooding and winter storms, followed by wind, hail and lightning from severe storms. An earthquake or dam failure would be "catastrophic" or "extensive," but the predicted frequency is low. One advantage of Carlisle's topography, it was noted, is that the town has enough ponds to provide a back-up water supply during an emergency.
Having an approved mitigation plan would make the town eligible to seek funds from FEMA programs. Wallace described an "iterative" bureaucratic process for plan approval. Once the regional committee writes the plan, which may happen by June, Selectmen may review and comment, then must vote to adopt a final local plan. McKenzie said later that she expects an approved plan to be in place by next fall.
McKenzie emphasized that grant funding is only available sporadically, after the town has been declared to lie within a "disaster area." This happens occasionally, she said, when there is regional storm or flood damage. There need not be damage within Carlisle for the grants to be available. Also, during the period of eligibility, the town can apply for many kinds of hazard mitigation, not just those that relate to the triggering event. In all cases FEMA requires a cost-benefit analysis and at least 25% local matching funds.
According to Wallace, two of the nine Carlisle dams registered with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation as required by state law are potential hazards — the dams at Spencer Brook (privately owned) and Greenough Pond (owned by the town).
The 75-year old dam at Greenough Pond has been a nagging worry to Selectmen and Conservation Commission members since the state's Department of Environmental Management declared it to be "in fair to poor condition" in 2000. Estimates of the costs of repairs following a town-funded study of the hydrology of the dam and the surrounding area in 2004 ranged as high as $100,000, and Wallace used $85,000 as the cost on a list of possible projects. (See "ConsCom gets plan, price tag for Greenough repair," Mosquito, January 31, 2003, available on the Mosquito web site.)
In order for the Corey Building at the Carlisle Public School to serve as a shelter for residents in an emergency, the school would need enough power to run the well-water system and to supply the Corey Building with power and heat.
Estimates for the cost to provide an emergency generator, electical work and fuel storage to power the entire Carlisle School campus would cost about half a million dollars. "If that's your emergency shelter" and the building cannot be used during a power failure, FEMA would likely view the generator as eligible for funding, Wallace noted.
School Building Committee and Board of Health member Bill Risso has suggested that a less expensive system costing about $20,000, would allow use of the Corey Building during short-term emergencies lasting not more than a couple of days. A 20kW generator, he said, would provide some heat, lights, fresh water and run the toilets.
Cranberry Bog dam
A breach in another important dam, this one located in Chelmsford, in the spring and summer of 2006 disrupted operations at the Cranberry Bog and engendered months of negotiations with that town's ConsCom and Selectmen. (See "How long will the patched dam hold?", Mosquito, July 14, 2006; "Repairs started for dam near Cranberry Bog," Mosquito, August 25, 2006) Though repaired by Chelmsford's public works department by September, leaks were detected again last spring ("Cranberry Bog dam leaks again," Mosquito, March 16, 2007) and town officials would like a study of the dam's drainage system. Joint application with Chelmsford would be required due to the Bog's location across the two towns.
Additional grant proposals included:
· Inspection and study of Spencer Brook Dam.
· Cistern for Great Brook Farm State Park to fight brush fires — approximately $100,000.
· Survey, trimming and/or removal of trees at risk of falling on power lines
· "Reverse 911" townwide, would cost approximately $5,000 according to Wallace, an amount questioned by Selectman Bill Tice and McKenzie.
Other possible mitigation measures to be included in the report are requiring developers to install cisterns in future subdivisions, changing state law to make it easier to get a permit to handle beaver dams, and purchasing satellite radios at an estimated cost of $20,000.
Praise for local regulations
Wallace also praised some of the town's "existing mitigation measures," in particular the "very strong" regulatory controls on development, including stormwater requirements, floodplains and wetlands bylaw, and "extensive amount" of conservation land, which reduces impervious surfaces and preserves a buffer for storm water. Requiring open burning permits helps control the risk of brush fires.
The study has identified areas in town where flooding and snow hazards are most frequent.
© 2008 The