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Agawam updates natural disaster mitigation plans

Date: 3/6/2015

AGAWAM – The town, along with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, conducted its final public engagement event March 3 to help update its hazardous mitigation plan.

The purpose of the plan and meetings was to identify areas in Agawam that could be affected by natural disasters and develop strategies to minimize damage.     While Agawam does have a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, emergency response efforts work to deal with disasters after they strike, while hazardous mitigation attempts long-term solutions for prevention. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) describes it as “any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risks to people and property from natural hazards.”

Agawam’s Natural Hazards Mitigation Committee drafted a plan, which must be updated every five years, based on assessments and public input.

The Agawam Natural Hazards Mitigation Committee is made up of Michael Abro, assistant town engineer, Chet Nicora, emergency management director, Patty Gambarini, PVPC Senior Environmental Planner, Michelle Chase, town engineer, B.J. Calvi, deputy fire chief, John Decker, deputy superintendent of the Department of Public Works and Christopher Golba, superintendent of the Department of Public Works.  

While scenarios such as floods, snowstorms, hurricanes, dam failures and brush fires already have mitigation plans in place, some saw revamped ideas for future plans. For example, areas that are more susceptible to flooding have been identified – such as lower and upper Suffield Street.

The town looked at events since the last time the plan was updated in 2008. In this case, one such event was Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which caused part of the “levy along the Westfield River to erode and fold.” The levy has since been reinforced, but the Department of Public Works has allocated money to pursue update designs.

Abro said that these incidents of extreme weather have helped shape the planning process.

“We’ve seen an increase in harsher weather. Updating and adapting for that is a big thing here,” Abro said. “We’re learning from the past, but I think the main thing that has driven us is the more intense weather. The climate has shifted and we kind of have to account for that.”

Though the most common forms of extreme weather come in the form of snow and flooding, Abro said that it is crucial to prepare for all forms of natural disaster, and the hazardous mitigation plans leaves the town with ways to manage if and when a hurricane, tornado or earthquake hits.

“Just to have on record if something happens because God forbid, we get hit with another tornado or more serious, we know what to do about, so just to have on record for rare things like that because we don’t get a lot of severe tornados but just so we know what to do when they do happen,” Abro said.

In addition to public safety and awareness, updating the mitigation plan means that Agawam has made itself eligible for FEMA hazard mitigation grants. Once the town submits its plan for approval, it can apply for grants to help fund projects that would help further the plan’s mission.

While the town might not necessarily use the grants for immediate relief, as might be expected from FEMA, it can use the money to fund certain projects that the town has lined up.

“If there’s a culvert pipe underneath the road that’s not adequate size flooding the road. There’s one we’re trying to get funding for,” Chase said.

Abro added that there were certain sewer lines that could be relocated for safety or increasing capacity.

The plan still needs to be approved by FEMA, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and then eventually adapted by the town and the Town Council, which will likely happen January 2016.

To view the full mitigation plan, visit Engineering Division’s page on Agawam’s website,