EASTHAM — If a severe storm or flood hit the Outer Cape forcing residents to evacuate, it would cause a major traffic backup.
Route 6 is the main evacuation route to Orleans and beyond. But what if the Orleans Rotary were under water?
Drivers could try the back roads through Eastham, but that would require travelling down Bridge Road, which is often the first road in town to flood when a storm hits. If the rotary is impassable, chances are Bridge Road will be, too.
At forums over the past year, Eastham residents have expressed concerns about infrastructure at low elevation, the lack of a major supermarket on the Outer Cape except for Provincetown, and the distance to Cape Cod Hospital.
Eastham is updating its local hazard mitigation plan and looking to publish a final draft in 2020. Provincetown published its hazard mitigation plan in 2016, while Truro and Wellfleet published plans in 2017.
The purpose of the plan is to safeguard the community from the effects of storms and natural hazards by increasing its economic, social, and environmental resiliency, according to the town website.
Eastham residents can complete an online survey to let planners know which issues they think should take priority during hazard mitigation planning. The survey will be available through December and can be found at eastham-ma.gov/home/news/hazard-mitigation-plan-update-public-survey.
A public hearing on the draft plan is scheduled for January 2020. After that hearing the select board must endorse the plan and submit it to the Mass. Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for approval. If all goes according to plan, the town will adopt the plan in March 2020.
Like other towns across the Cape, Eastham is a part of the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which provides support for communities to mitigate the effects of climate change and natural hazards. The town received a $30,000 grant from the state for a community resiliency planning process and has partnered with the Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and Woods Hole Sea Grant to work on planning, according to the town website.
The town’s MVP plan was approved by the state and published in June, and Eastham has been designated as an MVP Community, meaning it is eligible for more state funding.
The hazard mitigation plan is being completed in conjunction with the MVP initiative.
The process of developing comprehensive plans will educate local residents about the dangers posed by natural hazards and encourage citizens to develop a strategy to reduce or eliminate potential risks, allowing the community to recover quickly after storms, according to Town Planner Paul Lagg.
The MVP program focuses more on climate resiliency and is tied to state grants, while the hazard mitigation plan takes a broader look at all the possible natural hazards and is tied to federal grants, according to Lagg.
“We’re trying to get awareness out there and get different stakeholders to offer different perspectives,” he said.
Separately, Outer Cape towns are also working in collaboration on an Outer Cape Regional Shoreline Management Project.
Flooding, erosion, high winds, hurricanes, and sea level rise are the most immediate hazards Eastham now faces. Residents at workshops over the last year said they were most concerned with low-lying infrastructure for transportation, such as the rotary and Bridge Road. These areas saw increased flooding during storms in the winter of 2018-19, and a flash flood in August 2018 caused Bridge Road to be shut down for a few days.
Lagg said town officials plan to work on local bylaws and regulations so that redevelopment or new development of properties take account of sea level rise and other environmental factors.
The median age of Eastham residents is now 65 years. The town has numerous narrow private roads, creating risky conditions for accessibility and mobility.
The town does use Nauset Regional High School as a shelter and the library as a warming station. A Code RED system provides emergency notifications for residents who are signed up, and the fire department has a high-water vehicle that can access flooded areas and narrow roads to help residents get out of their homes in emergencies.
For more information, visit easthammvp.weebly.com.