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Board Of Selectmen Approve Hazard Plan



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The Board of Selectmen approved a hazard mitigation plan put forth by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG) at a September 9 meeting.

According to Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley, the hazard mitigation plan is one of five parts of the emergency management process required by both the federal and state governments. The plan identifies areas the town needs work on during natural disasters of the types that occur in each time.

Towns are rated on the disasters they’ve had and their responses to them. It identifies vulnerable areas and, if those areas were destroyed in a disaster, how to replace and harden those resources against future disasters.

“That’s hard to do as an individual municipality,” said Sibley, who noted that Newtown drafted its own plan in 2015.

Sibley said WestCOG approved its new plan three weeks ago and it had to come before the town. Now that the town has approved it, it will proceed for approval at the federal level. An approved plan is required for the towns covered by the plan to be eligible for FEMA assistance such as grants and assistance following emergencies.

According to the plan, the document represents the first multi-jurisdiction hazard mitigation plan to concurrently cover all 18 municipalities in the region served by WestCOG. Previously, the ten municipalities that were part of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials each had standalone single-jurisdiction hazard mitigation plans, while the eight municipalities that were part of the Southwestern Connecticut Regional Planning Area were covered under a multi-jurisdictional plan.

The plan states that as part of this planning process, each municipality identified a local coordinator to lead the local planning process, updated its list of critical facilities, provided updates regarding its capabilities, provided updates regarding areas of hazard risk, and noted mitigation successes. The mitigation strategies developed for each municipality under previous planning efforts were reviewed and updated. Finally, new statewide and regional mitigation strategies have been developed and incorporated.

This hazard mitigation plan adds “Fact Sheets” to make the document livelier and give community planners the flexibility to pull standalone pages out of the plan document when pursuing specific projects, grants, goals, etc. These are interspersed throughout the document and include new initiatives, impacts of climate change, regional challenges, mitigation success stories, and other considerations.

The plan states the region experiences a variety of weather and other incidents each year. Certain events rise to the level of being considered hazards due to their risk to people, property, and other resources. Natural hazards that affect the region include high-intensity storms such as hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and severe winter storms.

The effects of such severe storms can include related hazards such as flooding, severe winds, and tornadoes. Other natural hazards that may affect the region include the potential flooding from dam failure, droughts, earthquakes, and wildfires. Finally, WestCOG has chosen to include the potential risk from terrorist actions in this plan based on the historical record.

The plan estimates that Newtown incurs the following costs from disasters each year: $2,000 from dam failures, $14,000 from drought, $95,000 from earthquakes, $12,000 from flooding, $367,000 from hurricanes and tropical storms; $19,000 from thunderstorms, $4,000 from tornadoes, $17,000 from wildfires and $104,000 from winter storms.

The plan states that local coordinators and WestCOG intend to work together over the next five years to annually review the plan, enact strategies and actions, and incorporate the lessons learned during this planning process into other community and regional planning efforts. The availability of a current, FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan enables WestCOG municipalities to apply for certain types of FEMA grant funding opportunities.

WestCOG intends to regionally coordinate the next plan update prior to the expiration of this plan (anticipated to be in 2026) to ensure that the hazard mitigation plan remains up to date and that its member communities remain eligible for these grant opportunities.

Newtown’s Vulnerabilities

The plan notes that there are four dams with high hazard of failure that could affect Newtown: the Rocky Glen Dam, Pootatuck River, Newtown, owned by Sandy Hook Hydro, LLC; the Curtis Pond Dam, Curtis Pond Brook, Newtown, owned by the Town of Newtown; the Carp Road Dam in an “unnamed watercourse,” Newtown, owned by Cullens Youth Association; and the Shepaug Dam, Housatonic River, Southbury, owned by First Light Power Resources.

The plan further states that “Effective October 1, 2013, the owner of any high or significant hazard dam (Class B and C) must develop and implement an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) after the Commissioner of DEEP adopts regulations. The EAP shall be updated every two years, and copies shall be filed with DEEP and the chief executive officer of any municipality that would potentially be affected in the event of an emergency.

It further states, “Newtown continues to maintain and improve it dam failure mitigation capabilities.” The plan says the Curtis Pond Dam has been recently replaced and that “overall, the Rocky Glen Dam and the Lower Rocky Glen Dam, along the Pootatuck are the two dams that the town has the most concern with respect to maintenance. Town officials have also indicated that they would like to remove the 27 Glen Road dam in order to reduce the amount of water and material behind it.”

For hurricanes and tropical storms, the plan states that Newtown “has a proactive approach to tree trimming and has two tree wardens – one for the borough and one for the town. Over the years the town has increased its trimming efforts. The tree trimming budget is estimated around $200,000 with an emergency budget of $75,000. The town plans around Eversource’s trimming but the town desires better communication with Eversource about when and where they are planning to trim.”

During emergencies, the plan states that the town currently has three designated emergency shelters available for residents. During past events, the town used the emergency notification system CodeRED to notify all residents in the SFHA that they may evacuate and use one of the shelters.

The Board of Education also used its notification system to notify people on its list of emergency procedures. Since 2010 there have been seven emergency declarations covering town, with the most challenging aspect of those events having been downs trees and associated power loss. Prior to severe storm events, the town ensures that warning/notification systems and communication equipment are working properly and prepares for the possible evacuation of impacted areas.

The plan says that the town budget is generally adequate to handle winter storm damage, although the plowing budget is often depleted. The heavy snowfalls associated with the winter of 2010-2011 drained the town’s plowing budget and raised a high level of awareness of the danger that heavy snow poses to roofs.

The town owns 11 trucks for plowing which cover four plowing districts and six routes per district. Newtown has over 260 miles of local roads that are plowed and many private roads that are plowed as well due to Town Ordinance.

The plan says that recent improvements that town has made include posting snow plowing routes in municipal buildings to increase public awareness. In addition, town staff and emergency personnel have identified areas that may be difficult to access during a winter event and developed plans to access these areas during an emergency. The town is confident municipal buildings are in adequate shape to withstand snow loads, and have also worked to develop plans on reaching potentially hard to access areas in town during an event.

Mitigation Recommendations

Some recommendations the plan makes for the town include:

*Prepare status memo that describes objectives and policies from this hazard mitigation plan that may be considered for incorporation into the Plan of Conservation and Development when it is updated in 2024;

*Provide information on the Town website about DEEP training and information around small business chemical management for hazard resilience;

*Host a Connecticut DEEP presentation for municipal staff and local businesses about business chemical management for hazard resilience;

*Identify properties for future acquisition within the Halfway River watershed;

*Compile a checklist that cross-references the bylaws, regulations, and codes related to flood damage prevention that may be applicable to a proposed project and make this list available to potential applicants;

*Work with Eversource to identify municipal actions to improve electric grid resiliency; and

*Contact the owners of Repetitive Loss Properties and nearby properties at risk to inquire about mitigation undertaken and suggest options for mitigating flooding in those areas.

The report is available at westcog.org/emergency-management/hazard-mitigation.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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