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Regional conference will address climate change preparedness

Sunday News Correspondent

May 17. 2014 10:42PM

New Hampshire will host a regional conference this week about how communities can plan for climate change.



"Local Solutions: Northeast Climate Change Preparedness Conference" is being held Monday through Wednesday at the Center of New Hampshire at the Radisson in Manchester.



The conference is sponsored by Antioch University New England in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Bob Perciasepe, deputy administrator of the EPA, is scheduled to give the keynote address on Monday. Gov. Maggie Hassan will discuss New Hampshire's efforts to prepare for climate change on Monday at 12:30 p.m.

Other speakers include Bina Venkataraman, White House senior adviser on Climate Change Innovation, and Cameron Wake, a leading climate change researcher at the University of New Hampshire.

The conference is the kickoff event for the new Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience at Antioch University New England in Keene.

About 450 officials from across the Northeast are expected to attend, said Michael Simpson, the conference organizer and head of Antioch's environmental science department.

Attendees will include road agents, public works directors, planning board members and city council members.

These are not scientists talking to scientists or policymakers talking to policymakers; these are the people at the local level who are dealing with the effects of climate change right now in their own communities, Simpson said.

"When you talk about being prepared for climate change, being resilient, these are the people that have to do it," he said. "This is the first conference of its kind in the nation because it's focusing on local people."

Attendees will learn strategies to create climate resilient communities, Simpson said.

"It can be as simple as setting up a capital reserve fund," he said. "It could be as simple as changing the building code, or changing what is in the master plan."

Keene's efforts recognized

The issue of planning for climate change is not new to Keene. The city was mentioned in the 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA) report as a model for adaptation planning.

Keene Planning Director W. Rhett Lamb served on a 2008 task force that developed the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan. He plans to attend.

Lamb said he hopes to learn what other communities are doing to be more resilient to the effects of climate change.

"Much of what we have to do here is pretty costly," he said. "How do you figure out the right choices to make? And how do you pay for some of these things?"

In 2007, Keene adopted a plan to identify and manage ways to reduce the city's greenhouse gases as well as improve its infrastructure to lessen the impact of large rain events.

Over the past 10 years, Keene has experienced three rain and flooding events that either met or surpassed what is considered a 100-year storm for the city, Lamb said.

"If you look at what the predictions are (for climate change), you are not just looking at changes in temperatures, but changes in precipitation and in general weather events," he said.

Getting support difficult

Lamb said that while local first responders to floods - emergency responders and road agents - understand the issues, it has been difficult to get the federal government to adopt a forward-thinking attitude on climate change and resiliency.

In 2005, a Keene road washed out because the culvert beneath it did not have the capacity to handle the amount of rainfall. The Federal Emergency Management Agency funded a replacement, but would not approve the city's request for a larger culvert. FEMA only replaces "in kind," Lamb said.

In 2012, the same road washed out again.

This time, FEMA did fund a larger culvert, Lamb said. But if the federal agency had just spent a little bit more on the first reconstruction, Keene could have avoided the second washout, and FEMA would have saved money, he said.

This is one aspect of climate resiliency that local officials understand, he said.

"There are a group of towns and cities that are working together to use our collective voice to try to get federal agencies to try to think this way," Lamb said.

That seems to be coming. The NCA notes the critical role of culverts to manage the kind of extreme precipitation events expected to increase in the Northeast due to climate change.

And it cites an initiative in Maine to map, maintain and enlarge culverts as a model for other states in the region.



Antioch University has done a number of studies over the past 10 years assessing climate changes and identifying vulnerabilities. The data will be used by the new Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience to help communities make better choices, Simpson said.



"There's a new normal out there, and our infrastructure and systems are being tested," he said.

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