By BOB HOLMES
READING – A category 4 hurricane and the Reading sustainability plan at first glance don’t have much in common. But if the worst that mother nature offers makes residents pay attention when the town’s climate experts speak, is it a bad thing?
The Climate Advisory Committee met Wednesday night in their last meeting before presenting their Reading Sustainability Plan to the Select Board next week. The plan doesn’t deal with hurricanes but it deals with climate issues that aren’t about headlines but daily life. Public health, food, and transportation are all part of a plan the committee hopes will be embraced by the board at its Sept. 8 meeting.
The goal is simple, and that’s for Reading’s leaders to include climate and environmental concerns in the town’s master plan. Ignore mother nature, and all that means in 2020, at your own risk.
“We want to lay out the road map,” said committee chair David Zeek. “We’re looking for them not to cherry pick ideas from the sustainability plan but to adopt the whole package.”
The Reading sustainability plan is different from what you’ve seen before, including two Climate Action Plans on the town website. It includes public health issues like hazard mitigation, cooling centers, and wetlands flooding, along with expanded use of electric vehicles with visible charging stations, higher quality food sources, and energy efficient buildings.
“They are detailed plans. They have actions, they have deliverables and originally when they were presented, they had certain time frames in mind,” said Zeek of earlier Climate Action Plans. “While they were supported, and some of them were actually done, most of those actions were never executed. “What’s different about what we’re trying to do now is not go into that detail at this point but to lay out the broad town-level goals.
“In the future when specific proposals come up, we can look at that and say yes, that fits the direction of where we want to head as we described in our sustainability plan. Things that the town is pursuing right now, like trying to become a Green Community, we’re also recommending as part of our sustainability plan. So, we would point to this and say this makes a lot of sense and it fits with the overall plan.”
The committee took elements from previous plans and included them in what the Select Board will see Sept. 8.
“Having more energy efficient buildings and transportation improvements and those sorts of things came out of it to use as a guide going forward,” said committee member Ray Porter. “Those reports were our starting points.”
Zeek said the committee’s hope is that the board embraces their suggestions.
“We hope they would agree and adopt these directions that the sustainability plan gives,” said Zeek. “Reading itself has a master plan. But the goal of introducing the sustainability plan is that it gets incorporated into Reading’s master plan. That’s where this should go. All I’m looking for in this first meeting is that the board agrees with the sustainability plan as we present it and agrees to consider inserting it into the master plan.”
The committee also continued discussion of a new website. It’s been in the works for years but is closer to reality. The committee already has a Facebook page.
“There is actually a fair amount of activity now in Reading addressing environmental issues,” said Zeek. “There’s now multiple groups that are forming in Reading. One of the purposes is to start to coordinate or at least to inform the public of what these other groups do and how to contact them. If you put a post on Facebook it’s short and sweet and it goes away. We want a place where data can survive.”
The committee is working on answering simple questions about the site.
“Who are our customers,” said committee member Peter MacGowan. “Who’s going to be interested in what we have?”
The committee also discussed the gas leaks in town. National Grid listed 120 gas leaks in town at the end of 209 and the Main Street repaving work has taken care of many of them. MacGowan lamented the fact the gas leaks hurt trees and would keep many Reading trees from growing to their normal height.
With the agenda complete, the talk turned to Hurricane Laura, a category 4 storm in the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 150 mph.
“I don’t know if Reading would ever see something like that but what we are likely to see is major flowing. Reading is low land,” said Zeek. “Part of the town is swamp. There’s been a lot of money and effort put into our drainage systems. It wouldn’t take an awful lot just to be overwhelmed by just rain. Remember when the last time the hurricane went through Houston they had 24 inches of rain. That kind of thing, every basement in town would be a lake.”