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Article Published August 3, 2021

Chester, Deep River, Essex, Plan for Natural Hazards

By Elizabeth Reinhart/

To plan for and mitigate the impact of natural hazards like flooding, downed trees, and hurricanes, the towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex recently adopted updates to their Natural Hazard Mitigation Plans (NHMP).

The Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) spearheaded the multi-year project, which updates the Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan for the region and 15 of the 17 municipalities in its jurisdiction.

“I’m pleased for all of our towns,” said Margot Burns, an environmental planner at RiverCOG who was responsible for the project.

“They really worked hard on it and put their heads together to really think about what is important for their municipalities to become more resilient and to build on the work that has been done in the past,” she continued.

Burns worked with Dewberry Engineers, Inc., a planning, design and construction consultant, as well as a planning team made up of one representative from each of the towns on the project. The plan uses different methodologies to assess natural hazards, determine risk, and address areas of vulnerability to help make communities more resilient.

With increased storm intensity occurring across the region in recent years, preparing municipal infrastructure to handle more water is an important part of the plan. Upsizing storm culverts is one example.

“We’re getting more rain in shorter amounts of time and so culverts are not, in all instances, designed to take that amount of water coming through them,” said Burns. “So, upsizing culverts and bridge spans and things are a major theme.”

Another theme is debris management after a hurricane or tropical storm.

“I think…an issue for most of the towns in the region, is debris management after a storm, because of our tree canopy,” said Burns.

Other mitigation actions could include “flood-proofing a school or a fire station, purchase of flood-prone properties for open space,” said Burns, who acknowledged that “every community is different and unique” in terms of natural hazards.

She adds that each community’s NHMP can help “reduce loss of life and damage to property and infrastructure” while educating “residents and policymakers concerning natural hazards and mitigation probabilities” as well as helping “reduce costs to residents and businesses for things like insurance.”

Although the plans are voluntary, they are required to be updated every five years for a municipality to apply for and receive hazard mitigation grant funding or disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This is a requirement under the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000.

Now that the NHMP has been officially adopted, the documents are reviewed on an annual basis by municipalities and can be a useful planning tool, according to Burns.

“The hazard mitigation plans allow town staff and officials to go over what they need to do, what has been done and then that can carry over into the capital improvement plans and the budgets for the town,” said Burns. “So, they are very useful that way.

“Through this whole planning process, it really has shown that towns are chipping away at things, and I think they [the plans] have been very helpful in [getting] towns to focus on what needs to be done,” she continued.

The NHMP went through a rigorous review process involving the Connecticut State Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and FEMA, before being adopted in July by the boards of selectmen in Chester, Deep River, and Essex and RiverCOG.