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Town officials holding public “listening session” on climate change impacts to Abington

Selectmen are interested in hearing from Abington residents about ways the town should prepare for the effects of climate change.

The board is conducting a “listening session” as part of its meeting Monday night in the Cotter Room of Town Hall. The listening session, which will start at 7:15 p.m., is part of the process communities must take part in to become eligible for state Municipal Vulnerability Prepardness Program grants.

Scientists say that the Northeast is warming faster than other parts of the country. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average temperature across Plymouth Country over the past five years was 2.7 degrees higher than 20th century averages. At the Blue Hill Observatory, which has meticulously tracked local weather data since 1885, five of the nine warmest years on record occurred in the 2010s. And as sea levels rise, a number of seaside communities are reporting growing occurances of moon tide-related flooding.

Abington doesn’t have to worry about high tides or flooding rivers. But it is concerned about other climate-change related impacts such as flooding and damage from more frequent, powerful storms, and extended heat waves and droughts.

The town, for example, has a number of low-lying areas and ponds held back by aging dams. Most municipal buildings, including the two senior housing complexes, lack central air conditioning. And while the senior center is used as a cooling center on hot days, it lacks a generator and other equipment needed to be considered an emergency shelter.

Gov. Charlie Baker in 2016 established the Municipal Vulnerability Prepardness Program — also known as the MVP Program — by executive order to give cities and towns access to grant money to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The Legislature made $200 million in planning and implementation grants available through a 2018 bond bill.

According to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, 285 of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns currently are eligible to receive grants through the MVP Program.

Program grants can be used to pay for vulnerbaility and risk assessments; community outreach and education programs; bylaw updates; redesigning and retrofitting infrastructure; improved flood protection, droughr mitigation, and water quality improvements; and ways to address extreme heat and poor air quality.

The town earlier this year received a grant to work with a consultant and conduct a Community Resiliency Building workshop. The goal of the workshop was to identify vulnerable areas of Abington that could be impacted by climate change, prioritize projects, and improve strengths.

Abington faces three primary hazards, the workshop concluded: flooding, big storms, and droughts and extreme temperatures The town has a number of low-lying areas historically prone to flooding, the region has experienced a number of severe storms in recent years, more frequent droughts could impact the town’s water source and increase the risk of wildfires, and extreme temperatures will impact vulnerable populations that lack air conditioning.

The top three projects identified so far are repairing the Island Grove Pond dam along Route 123, installing a generator at the senior center and evaluating it as a possible emergency shelter, and repairing the Central Street Bridge.

Other high-priority projects include repairing the Beaver Brook Dam; studying how climate change may impact the town’s water supply; installing a back-up power suply and central air at town-owned senior housing facilities; improving the town’s emergency alert system, and reducing algae blooms in Island Grove Pond. In addition, the town may look at roads and infrastructure subject to flooding, such as the Chestnut Street bridge; develop a tree planting program to maintain the town’s green canopy; and possibly build a second egress point to the Shaw Avenue senior housing complex.

The public listening session is the final piece needed to prepare the town’s Summary of Findings, which will be submitted to the state.

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