MIDDLESEX - A number Stonehamites and town officials believe a changing climate could worsen area flooding hazards, including by Montvale Avenue and within neighborhoods by various streams.
Based upon a draft version of a joint hazard mitigation and Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) plan, those residing within the town have reason to be concerned about extreme temperature swings creating intense rain and wind storms capable of knocking out electricity and flooding various town neighborhoods bordering the Sweetwater Brook and numerous other wetlands areas.
In early May, during a Stoneham Select Board meeting, Town Planner Erin Wortman and Weston and Sampson project manager Caroline Wells outlined the findings of the joint report and a community resilience building (CRB) workshop led by Weston and Sampson in November of 2020 as part of Stoneham’s quest to tap into millions of dollars in potential infrastructure restoration and development grants.
The March of 2021 MVP plan narrative suggests that Stoneham should coordinate with surrounding communities and other advocacy groups to deal with future flooding issues in and around a series of newer large-scale housing developments on Stoneham’s borders.
Because climate change is also expected to drive drought conditions, which could similarly weaken and kill off trees within the vast conservation land spaces contained within Stoneham, the preparedness and hazard mitigation outlooks also seek to prepare for electricity and infrastructure damage caused by dead and dying trees.
Nearly one-third of Stoneham’s land mass is designated as parkland, most of which is part of the state managed Fells Reservation. The conservation land borders part of Malden, Medford, Melrose and Winchester.
“We look at hazards that are most likely to impact Stoneham. From the historical data, we looked at how [events] like hurricanes and droughts have effected the town. We also look at the data projected for the town,” Wells explained during a virtual presentation to the Select Board.
“Some things we are already seeing…for example, increased temperatures and flooding and inundation,” the engineer continued. “Stoneham is generally in a really good position. It’s not a coastal area and doesn’t have a lot of areas that cause concern. There are however, a few areas of localized fooding and those are near some newer developments.”
Now, local officials and consultants from engineering firm Weston and Sampson want to know whether there's widespread community consensus about the findings.
Those interested in commenting on the plan are being encouraged by Wortman to download a copy of it via the Town of Stoneham’s website.
“The Town of Stoneham received a grant from the MA Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to research and prepare a plan to mitigate natural hazards and to prepare the town for climate changes. The draft plan is posted for public review and comment,” Wortman and other town officials explained in a recent news blurb release.
According to Wells, in the coming months — an exact timeline has not yet been finalized —Stoneham’s leaders hope to seek out funding based upon the 142-page climate change report.
“This plan really puts the town in a good position for future funding for hazards and climate change issues,” the Weston and Sampson consultant told the Select Board, which will likely have to produce matching funding to obtain some of the numerous state grants available upon approval of the document. “The task now is to really refine your budget.”
During the MVP workshop in March, the Weston and Sampson team circulated climate change models that forecast potentially devastating environmental and public safety risks arising from more severe winter storms and rainy seasons, as well as cyclical drought events.
According to workshop facilitators, climatologists are already worried about present day temperature spikes, which have reportedly increased each decade by an average of a half degree Fahrenheit (F). Winter temperatures have grown warmer at a more aggressive average rate of 1.3 degrees per decade.
“We want to think about maintenance and design for more frequent and severe storms. In relation to droughts, we predicted people will be using more energy. The may be using air conditioners more and relying more heavily on utilities,” Wells told town officials.
“We can design [development features like parking lots] differently when we’re talking about increased temperatures. For example, can we break up heat islands by strategically planting trees [and other landscaping buffers]?” the engineer later asked.
Worried about worse flooding events in areas around Spot Pond and various other water bodies in and around the Fells Reservation, MVP report stakeholders also suggested that Stoneham’s major thoroughfares and side streets could also be rendered impassible by more frequent tree damage and power outages.
Of particular concern are a series of new developments that have been built on Stoneham’s borders during the past decade. For example, a 200-unit apartment complex by I-93 and the Winchester line off of Fallon Road is situated right by one of Stoneham’s two flood zones.
A second flood plain is situated along Montvale Avenue, one of the community’s busiest traffic corridors that processes commuters heading to and from I-93.
By the Malden, Medford, and Melrose lines, situated within the Fells Reservation, another 300-unit housing project came online in 2018. Also by the Melrose line, a new 264-unit housing development at the former Weiss Farm property off of Franklin Street, situated by a series of delicate wetlands areas that have historically been prone to flooding, is also likely to take root in the coming years.
Ultimately, the group recommended Stoneham take various immediate actions to address those potential hazards, including coordinating a strong mutual assistance plan with abutting towns and cleaning out a series of streams, stormwater drains, and culverts situated within residential neighborhoods.
Citizens and local leaders are also eyeing a potential high school rebuilding project by Franklin Street as an opportunity to do the following:
• Create a new and larger emergency shelter area for vulnerable populations;
• Improve surrounding drainage culverts and stormwater management systems;
• and create a model building with energy efficient building materials and HVAC systems.
“In building the new high school and working on the flooding issues we already have, we want to make sure we do this right,” said Select Board member Raymie Parker in response to the 142-page report. “We want to keep this conversation fresh.”
Stoneham officials were able to retain Weston and Sampson and complete the draft MVP plan thanks to a $15,000 grant obtained in the January of 2020.
Established in 2017, the MVP program has helped more than 200 communities across Massachusetts with the development of similar climate change strategies.
As of the spring of 2018, nearly $10 million was allocated to the handful of cities and towns that have applied for funding and obtained approval of MVP action plans.
According to Wells, with an increasing number of cities and towns now in pursuit of that limited pool of annual funding, the grant application process has become quite competitive in recent years.