Orleans Does Its Best To Prepare For The Worst

By: Ed Maroney

Not all the hazards Orleans has to mitigate are on the shore. Micro-burst rainstorms can make areas like the Stop & Shop parking lot into miniature lakes.


ORLEANS — With the help of Woods Hole Group, the town has completed a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) report for the state and updated its federal Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan (MHMP). Final drafts of both documents are available on the planning department's webpage (town.orleans.ma.us/planning-department), with comments being accepted through May 31 by Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey (gmeservey@town.orleans.ma.us).
“When these are finalized, the town will be eligible for funding for any repair projects we choose as part of our plan,” Meservey said at a public listening session May 22. “I think we'll be competitive. Like a lot of Cape towns, Orleans has a lot of vulnerabilities.”
The state should take about a month to certify the town as eligible for matching grants under the MVP program, according to coastal scientist Elise Leduc of Woods Hole Group. The next round of funding will be available in the fall or a year from now. The MHMP needs to be certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can take up to three months.
Private and public stakeholders participated in a Community Resilience Building Workshop Feb. 8, citing the top hazards faced by Orleans (nor'easters, hurricanes and tropical storms, flooding, and coastal erosion) and identifying vulnerable areas (such as neighborhoods that are isolated during flooding, Nauset Beach), and low-lying coastal roadways (Rock Harbor Road, for example) and facilities (such as the senior center).
The top five “recommendations to improve resilience” were a vulnerability assessment of coastal fuel depots and implementation of spill prevention measures, identification of vulnerable populations to aid in emergency responses, becoming energy-independent, improving public outreach and communication, and evaluating and addressing flood risks to low-lying roads.
“The last real hurricane we experienced was Hurricane Bob almost 30 years ago,” Leduc said at last week's meeting. “We're kinda due. Even though we're not in the Gulf of Mexico, we're certainly on track for hurricanes. Bob was a Category 2 or 1; a Category 3 or more would be devastating.”
Selectman Kevin Galligan said it would be interesting to determine the duration of past storms. “Some blow by and some hang here for days,” he said, “and that's the killer.” Leduc agreed. “Nor'easters can sit for days,” she said. If one blows through and out on a low tide, that's one thing, “but if a nor'easter sits for three tide cycles,” real damage ensues.
Another challenge comes from increasing temperatures. Since 1895, Leduc said, the temperate statewide has gone up almost 3 degrees Fahrenheit and the growing season has increased by 15 days since 1950. “Sea level rise since 1922 is up almost 12 inches,” she said, “and precipitation has also increased. We might end up having less days of rain but more rain overall.”
State data by county show Barnstable on course for a 3-ish degree increase in temperature by 2050 and almost 6 degrees by the end of the century, according to Leduc. Higher temperatures, she said, can exacerbate asthma and allergies, create heat islands from impervious surfaces, and change the region's ecology.
“Higher temperatures increase the negative impacts of nitrogen loading,” Walter North, a conservation commission member, noted.
Sea level rise projections statewide range from four to 10 feet by the end of the century, said Leduc. For a town with so much coastline, she observed, much of Orleans “is significantly higher than most sea level predictions... Most of the center of town is actually high... Where the impact will be is at Rock Harbor and the barrier beach.”
Leduc said it was encouraging to see that many of the town's critical facilities, including the fire department, schools, and town hall, are outside the flood risk area. “The things that are really vulnerable,” she said, “are the marinas, the senior center and the Community of Jesus.”
The draft Orleans Mutli-Hazard Mitigation Plan lists 25 mitigation actions ranging from ongoing to occurring within the next five years. Responses to flooding include repairs to town bulkheads, purchase of open space to limit future damages, and improved stormwater control. Better access to the senior center during floods may require culvert fixes or elevating portions of Rock Harbor Road.
Also in the MHMP are strategies to address coastal erosion, including the phased Nauset Beach retreat plan, renourishing of Skaket Beach, and implementation of erosion countermeasures at town landings. Three of the actions relate to shoaling and the need for dredging not only in Nauset Estuary and Pleasant Bay but also Rock Harbor, possibly including the “outer” channel.
The draft notes that the town's Well No. 7, at a low elevation, is the one most likely to experience saltwater intrusion following sea-level rise and recommends its ongoing monitoring.
At last week's meeting, Galligan noted that town meeting has approved design funds for repairs to the Town Cove and Rock Harbor bulkheads and wondered whether that work would be eligible for matching funds. “I don't see why not,” Leduc said.
“The towns on the coast have really jumped on this,” the consultant said of the MVP process. “By the end of next year, every coastal town will have responded on this. I hope the state will set priorities based on what they're hearing back from the towns.”