By PAT MULVANEY, Editor of the Monroe County Herald
MONROE COUNTY - On a 15-0 vote Wednesday, Monroe County Board supervisors accepted that climate change is happening and threw their support behind the efforts of the county's newly formed Climate Change Task Force (CCTF).
That support came in the form of a resolution the CCTF forwarded to the board. County Administrator Tina Sternberg said the task force isn't just looking at climate change from a natural resources perspective, but also how it is having negative effects on all aspects, including agriculture, public health, tourism and the economy.
The CCTF was formed to develop and recommend implementation of a number of efforts, including creating an effective weather monitoring system, identifying current trends and challenges related to climate change, creating a mitigation plan to deal with the impact of severe weather patterns, identifying assistance resources and educating citizens on the changes that are occurring.
According to Monroe County Land Conservationist Bob Micheel, the first priority is implementing monitoring devices to be able to warn the public of impending disasters, such as flood events. Another objective high on the list is floodplain management–moving structures out of flood-prone areas.
"We need to become proactive, not reactive," he said.
The way floods are currently handled is FEMA rolls in, insists damaged infrastructure is put back the way it was and the county faces the same situation in a year or less after the next flood, according to Micheel.
"We need to look at it differently,” the county land conservationist said. “We need to change our way of land use, our practices, our infrastructure, our conservation practices."
Ron Luethe, a Ridgeville Town Board supervisor and a member of the CCTF, said the task force is trying to localize the issue of climate change, a term he said has been politicized and weaponized by people on both sides of the issue.
"When you look at climate change it almost looks too big to even tackle, but here is the place you start," Micheel said. "You start at the county level, then it goes to the state level and, hopefully, to the national level. What we do locally is going to make a difference."
Joey Esterline, an environmental activist from Sparta, also addressed the board. She said its about prioritizing for the future and looking at the cost of combating climate change as an opportunity, not a sacrifice.
"Our children are counting on us to do this," she said. "As adults we need to take this action. We really shouldn't be leaving this to our children."
Supervisor Paul Steele pointed out the resolution had no funding attached to it, also noting there is no money in the budget in the first place.
Osterberg said the task force doesn't know what funding it needs yet, but at some point the county will have to start doing something because there is a bigger cost to doing nothing, especially when it comes to replacing roads and bridges after floods.
"We need to put money on the front end to mitigate that, or continue to replace it on the back end," she said. "That's not going to help out anyone's budget."
Goals and objectives
The goals and objectives of the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force include:
1. Implement monitoring devices (weather stations) and warning systems in real time by coordinating with emergency management and the National Weather Service.
2. Floodplain Management – remove structures/roads/crossings within the floodway that have a history of being flooded and/or under immediate threat. Define standards for building within the floodplain.
3. Complete a flood impact study to identify the 100-year floodway boundary based on recent rainfall data and current land use. Focus on areas with development pressure and/or chronic flooding issues.
4. Zone to promote sustainable land use decisions. Improve existing enforcement of the shore land-zoning ordinance.
5. Enforcement of land use decisions.
6. Flood Mitigation Projects – watershed management - implement/develop water infiltration, retention practices that address rainfall and runoff.
7. Promote sustainable land use policies or practices that influence state and federal legislation.
8. Climate Change Mitigation:
• ID contributions/sources
• Establish standards for sustainable living
• Implement mitigation programs (ex. tree planting, mass transit, runoff curve number (RCN) and temperature balancing, agriculture – carbon sequestering practices, etc.)
• Individual empowerment
9. Provide information and education.
10. Seek funding sources to implement the Task Force’s recommendations and goals.
The resolution passed by the Monroe County Board reads as follows:
WHEREAS, climate change poses a serious threat to Monroe County’s natural resources, agriculture, public health, communities, tourism, and economy; and
WHEREAS, increasing instances of extreme weather events since 2007 and more recently August of 2018 and July of 2019 are devastating Monroe County and surrounding communities; and
WHEREAS, the safety of our citizens is of the utmost importance and adequate monitoring of severe weather occurrences will help protect individuals, businesses and communities; and
WHEREAS, adequate floodplain management can help alleviate future property damage; and
WHEREAS, updating and or creating the county’s floodplain map through an impact study will more accurately reflect current weather events; and
WHEREAS, identifying current land use trends and challenges will allow the county to improve enforcement of standard zoning policies and practices to create sustainable land use decisions; and
WHEREAS, Monroe County citizens, businesses, and municipalities have incurred significant financial damage in the millions of dollars due to climate change and extreme weather events, these damages are impacting the municipalities’ budgets and adding substantial financial strain; and
WHEREAS, the Climate Change Task Force (CCTF) will seek federal, state, and local technical and financial assistance to implement Task Force recommendations and goals; and
WHEREAS, the CCTF will provide educational materials and inform the citizens of Monroe County about climate change and its’ effects on the County; and
WHEREAS, establishing mitigation programs throughout Monroe County that will benefit all citizens; and
WHEREAS, promotion of sustainable land use policies and practices with the state and federal government is vital for future change; and
WHEREAS, our county has a responsibility to current and future generations of Monroe County residents to act to prevent continuing damage to our resources and infrastructure and to invest in solutions that help to mitigate the changes that have already occurred.NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Monroe County Board recognizes that climate change is occurring in Monroe County and supports the efforts of the Climate Change Task Force to develop and recommend implementation of an effective monitoring systems, identify current land use trends and challenges, create a mitigation plan for the impact of severe weather patterns from ongoing climate change, identify federal, state, and local assistance, and educate the public on climate change.
Pat Mulvaney is the editor of the Monroe County Herald newspaper.