CHATHAM – A half century ago, Florence Seldin's family rented a cottage every summer in Wellfleet and could walk to the water just up and over a dune. One year they returned and the path ended in a sheer cliff over the beach.
“That certainly shows me what could happen here on Cape Cod,” Seldin said, referring to the threat to the peninsula from climate change.
She was one of about 50 people who attended a workshop held Monday at the community center by the Cape Cod Commission, which is developing a strategic framework to address the region's contributions to and threats from climate change.
Attendees, who included town officials from the Mid and Outer Cape region, local non-profit organizations and a number of residents, addressed questions such as what barriers and challenges there are to mitigating and adapting to climate change on the Cape, and what opportunities exist to make an impact over time.
“Don't be afraid to talk about carbon tax,” said Barnstable County Administrator Jack Yunitis, adding that corporations aren't held accountable for the damage they do to the environment.
The fact that much of the Cape's built environment is within areas that could be at risk from more powerful coastal storms as well as sea level rise is a problem, said Dennis Town Planner Daniel Fortier.
“How do you move what's in harm's way? It's going to be tremendously expensive,” he said.
Other officials talked about the difficulty of working on climate change issues when they are putting out fires day to day, different zoning rules when it comes to new vs. pre-existing structures, and the lack of support for higher density development that could increase use of public transportation, which would reduce greenhouse gases. Eastham Planner Paul Lagg suggested the sort of educational effort that, years ago, convinced voters of the benefits of open space.
“We have a lot easier time at town meeting buying a piece of property than we do for zoning for affordable housing,” he said.
Monday's session was the first of four being held throughout the region to solicit input on planning priorities, concerns and barriers to climate adaptation and mitigation in the region. Another session was held later that afternoon in Wellfleet, a second will be held at the Mashpee Library on Oct. 29, and a final session at the Cape and Islands Association of Realtors in Yarmouth also on Oct. 29.
“We all know that climate change is a critical challenge to the whole region,” said Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Kristy Sentori. There are more than 586 miles of shoreline on the Cape vulnerable to flooding and erosion which climate change and sea level will impact, she said. Some 19 percent of the region is in FEMA hazard zones, representing $16 billion worth of real estate and 30 percent of local towns' critical facilities. That area also includes 1,500 inventoried historic structures, and nearly 1,000 more if those that have not been inventoried are included, she added.
The commission's Resilient Cape Cod Program, initiated with a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has four components, Sentori said: development of an adaptation database; a community engagement process; a socio-economic analysis; and development of a planning tool for local towns.
The commission is also working on a model coastal resiliency bylaw for local towns and is working with communities on the state-sponsored Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program. By next June all 15 Cape towns will be part of that program, she said.
As part of its efforts to address climate change and coastal resiliency, the commission has begun a greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Different methodologies are being analyzed to find one appropriate to the region; that, along with a determination on how best to collect data, will be finalized over the winter. A draft greenhouse gas inventory is expected to be available for public review in the spring and summer.
The commission is also analyzing the best locations for electric vehicle charge stations, as well as doing a site analysis for solar energy arrays and energy storage facilities.
In addition, the commission's recently completed regional transportation plan update and Cape Cod Economic Development Strategies include strategies related to climate change.
“We know that there's a lot of other work going on across the region and in the state and in municipalities,” Sentori said, and the series of workshops was an attempt to gather that information as well as input on other strategies.
“This is really the start of what we anticipate will be a broader stakeholder process,” said Cape Cod Commission Deputy Director Erin Perry.
There isn't a lot of time to work on these issues, noted Chatham resident Paula Lofgren.
“The wind is here, the rain is here. It's not coming,” she said.
Jane Wilson, also a Chatham resident, said her two grandchildren live in town and she's concerned about the future. “Wherever we go we've got to always keep our kids and our grandkids in mind,” she said.