More than 60 people crowded into the board room in the Potsdam Village offices last night to hear about hazard mitigation planning. It was the third "kick-off" meeting held around St. Lawrence County to introduce the new Multi-Jurisdiction Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Hazard mitigation is the process by which towns, villages and the county will identify areas around their community that could become a hazard in the event of a natural disaster. It could include such mundane things as water culverts or storm drains that are too small and flood in the rain or something as large as river banks that are eroding and threaten to collapse, taking houses downriver with it.
The next step after the hazards are identified is to determine what, if anything, can be done before the disaster to eliminate the threat or lessen the effects of the disaster before it occurs. That is where this plan comes in.
With a completed hazard mitigation plan, the county will then know what projects can be undertaken before a disaster and hopefully prevent future damages. Raising a road bed or enlarging drainage culverts now will prevent the road from flooding later.
St. Lawrence County received a grant to conduct the study and prepare their plan. The firm Barton and Leguidice was contracted with those grant funds to work with St. Lawrence County and prepare a product that would meet FEMA's strict guidelines. Any final plan must be approved by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Otherwise, municipalities will not become eligible for Federal hazard mitigation grant funding.
FEMA requires that the county consider all categories of possible natural hazards, but the county plans on looking at other hazards as well. These include hazardous wastes, explosives and other possible man-made disasters that could strike the county.
The planning process will involve not only the county government, with the Department of Emergency Services in the lead, but also all the towns and villages in the county. "That community involvement is essential" said John Condino, project lead for Barton and Leguidice. "Hazard mitigation saves lives and prevents property damage."
Last night's meeting was the last of three project "kick-off" meetings held this week. Earlier, meetings were held in Wanakena and in Gouverneur. For planning purposes, the county was divided into three "regions" north, west and south. This is a new program for St. Lawrence County and the meetings were held to introduce the concept of hazard mitigation to the county's municipalities, first responders and to the public.
The next step is a series of regional initial planning meetings that will be held in about a month. In the meantime, the county executive committee consisting of Emergency Services, County Planning and the County Department of Highways, will be meeting with the contractor to develop their plan on the way ahead.
John Condino also stressed the importance of the public's involvement. "No one knows their community better than the people who live there. If there is an area that is prone to annual floooding, its the people immediately affected that know best. That information will be very important to having a complete plan." He went on to say "The public is invited, even encouraged to attend these planning meetings."
The plan is expected to take up to a year to complete, submit and be approved by FEMA. After approval, the communities that participate will then be eligible to apply for project funding. Jurisdictions that do not participate in the hazard mitigation planning will not be eligible for these grants.
Disasters can strike anywhere. If the county properly plans, we can lessen the effects of those disasters.