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Community Visioning is the First Step in Climate Action

Authored by Jayme Breschard | April 14, 2022

People often ask how I developed the interest and knowledge about Climate Action. The simple answer is – it all started with good stormwater and floodplain management.

My career began in water resources planning and working directly with municipalities; tackling public awareness and developing action plans for stormwater compliance, floodplain management, and watershed plan implementation in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. I took the standard approach as a planner when working together with communities on their vision of what growth and development would look like in about ten years.  As a regional planner, resilience meant comprehensive water resources management.  It’s about taking into account current regulations, but then adding the planner’s “comprehensive management” twist – what will your future floodplain look like?  What areas should be protected and preserved?  What areas should be permitted for “appropriate” development? What is appropriate development?

During my planning career, the frequency and intensity of storm events has increased and impacts such as flooding, and erosion have taken a deep toll on the built environment. I began to see the need for post-disaster recovery planning.  Hazard mitigation and pre-disaster plans existed but were mostly applied for federal disaster assistance eligibility. There was a need for more emphasis on rebuilding after a disaster event when the opportunity for building back better could be most successful.

 When more localized flooding started occurring in areas not regarded as the “regulatory floodplain”, I began to realize that planners need to do more than just flood resilience – we need to think about adaptation.  Many older neighborhoods exist across New York State that were established long before current environmental regulations and building codes.  Many of these same neighborhoods now have higher concentrations of vulnerable populations. Repeat flooding in these places can create damaging emotional cycles that are difficult and almost impossible to recover from.  How can we retrofit older communities and adapt to these climate impacts, along with other stressors such as increasing temperatures and extreme heat waves?

Climate Action is a three-column structure – resilience and adaptation are two of these pillars. The critical first pillar, mitigation, begins with the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Extreme weather is one of the effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases.   That is the full story of climate action – mitigation, adaptation, and resilience.  Municipalities can play a role by reducing the GHG emissions resulting from their day-to-day operations and the consumption of energy and materials in government buildings, from wastewater and water treatment facilities to municipal vehicle fleets and government-owned outdoor lighting.

The roughly $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act reauthorizes existing programs and provides more than $550 billion in new funding over the next five years to help upgrade aging U.S. transportation, water, power generation, and communication systems.  Historically, federal funding has trickled down to local governments through traditional funding mechanisms such as USDA Rural Development and the HUD Community Development Block Grant Program, as well as through New York State channels as the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA).

Announcement of this imminent grant funding should serve as the catalyst for local governments to get organized, to become “shovel ready” for increasing their opportunity to receive a portion of these new highly competitive grants.  However, a vast majority of villages, towns, and cities lack capacity through smaller budgets, fewer personnel, part-time staff, and lack of in-house technical expertise like engineering or a geographic information system (GIS).  Pulling together an application is an obstacle solely because of time, and many very knowledgeable officials simply do not know where to begin.

We propose Community Visioning as the first step. A local government has to know what it has and what it has control of.  Our approach takes into consideration the vulnerability of these assets and recognizes the interconnectedness of environmental, financial, social, and economic systems for a comprehensive strategy. It includes understanding the local governance structure; how are capital improvements handled?  What is the budget process?  We also need to understand the municipality’s organizational capacity so that gaps can be identified—what committees are functioning?  Who are your full-time personnel? Solutions can involve the use of circuit riders to technical assistance available at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits.  We are the experts at creating a funding strategy which leverages internal resources with policies and programs and incorporates the value-add of grants and incentives.

We look forward to working with communities across the Northeast to achieve a more inclusive, healthy, and safer future for the next generation.  Please consider reaching out to B&L so that we may help you better utilize the tools and programs that will provide holistic and comprehensive benefits to your community.

Jayme Breschard is a Senior Managing Community Planner at Barton & Loguidice, leading the firm’s Climate Action initiatives as a Climate Action Specialist.

Sustainable Planning & Design

This article is from members of the Sustainable Planning & Design Practice Area.

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