Towns and villages adopt county-wide plan to cope with climate change

ALBANY COUNTY — All but two municipalities in Albany County — Rensselaerville and the village of Colonie — are participating in a multi-jurisdictional, multi-hazard mitigation plan meant to help as climate change creates natural disasters.

The plan will let communities assess the risk from natural hazards and then help develop procedures to blunt the costs and impact of those catastrophes.

A 2007 plan was not adopted by the county’s municipalities because the committee that was in charge of putting together that plan was made up of county officials, with no feedback from the cities, towns, and villages of Albany County.

In November, the villages of Altamont and Voorheesville adopted the plan.

“The purpose of this Multi-Jurisdictional Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan is to effectively reduce future disaster damages, public expenditure, private losses, and community hazard vulnerability,” the plan states. “This plan update provides an opportunity for Albany County and its municipalities to develop a comprehensive risk assessment and to outline proposed mitigation actions to minimize the costs and impacts of future disaster events.

“The intention of this plan update is to meet the New York State and federal hazard mitigation planning requirements established and managed by the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ and FEMA,” it says, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Updating the plan keeps municipalities eligible for federal funds.

Only an evaluation of the impact of natural hazards is required, the plan says, although “Albany County and other participants could have also chosen to assess the County’s vulnerability to technological hazards and human-caused hazards.”

The hazards evaluated were: extreme temperatures; severe thunderstorms, wind, and tornadoes; hurricanes and tropical storms; floods; drought; landslides; earthquakes; winter storms; wildfires; and ice jams.

These hazards, the plan says, may only become more frequent in the future because of climate change.

Citing a report from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the plan says Albany County can expect:

— Heat waves to become more frequent and intense, which will increase heat-related illness and death while also posing new challenges to energy production, air quality, and agriculture;

— Summer droughts to increase, which will affect the water supply, agriculture, and energy production;

— Heavy downpours to increase, which can lead to flooding while also impacting water quality, infrastructure, and agriculture;

— Major changes to ecosystems, including species-range shifts and population crashes; and

— Coastal flooding to increase as a result of rise in the sea level, which could  impact the Hudson River and adjacent communities.

Hazard Mitigation

“The prime objective of setting hazard mitigation goals is to reduce or eliminate losses and damages from hazard events,” the plan says.

The plan’s goals for hazard mitigation are broadly defined:

— Minimize injury and loss of life from hazards;

— Minimize losses to structures within hazard areas;

— Protect natural resources; and

— Protect cultural resources.

To achieve those goals, over 60 actions are recommended for hazard mitigation, including:  

— Wherever possible, retrofitting municipal facilities;

— Providing information for the general public through the use of municipal websites and print media;

— Purchasing portable equipment to enable interagency communication;

— Insuring that construction of all new government facilities take in to consideration the potential impact of moderately-high hazards like flooding and fire;

— Insuring the state building code is enforced for all construction projects;

— Assisting critical-care facilities like hospitals and nursing homes that need to “shelter-in-place,” by relocating generators, electrical, and computer equipment;

— Creating and enforcing use-limitations for buildings;

— Ensuring that dead trees and branches near electric service are removed or pruned back to reduce the possibility for interruption of service;

— Updating and testing all components of evacuation plans;

— Working with mobile-home parks to ensure evacuation of residents when severe weather is expected;

— Reducing the number of trees close to utilities “without challenging local stormwater management practices or contributing to a significant reduction in tree canopy”;

— Ensuring that surge protection is in place for all electric and electronic equipment in municipal facilities and buildings;

— Providing alternative power sources for traffic signals during power outage;

— Providing emergency lighting for critical areas during power outages;

— Using early warning forecast services;

— Encouraging the burying of utility lines in future developments and in critical areas; and

— Training emergency response management personnel for hazard recognition.