Engaging Community Residents Essential for Climate Change Adaptation to Happen

April 28, 2013

By Nancy Griffin

Related and referenced in this article:

Excerpted from the EOS ToolKit: Accounts of the Saxby Gale (1869)

Small New Hampshire Coastal Community Takes Big Steps Forward: Newfields Creates Action Plan

On both sides of the border, climate change adaptation studies and projects are taking form to protect municipalities and infrastructure in the future. But as those involved in creating plans acknowledge, even the best projects won’t work unless citizens understand and support them.

In New Brunswick, two major storms in 2010 caused serious flooding the Sackville area, the Tantramar Region and elsewhere. Without changes, future storms of increased severity will cause more damage and someday threaten dykes that protect rail lines and highways in the Tantramar Marshlands area that straddles New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In nearby tiny Port Elgin, storms damaged coastal infrastucture and terrain.

For three years now, climate scientists, academics, government officials and nonprofits have been working on adaptation plans to protect the region. They are about to release a “toolkit” that will provide local information to residents of the southeast New Brunswick Tantramar region that includes Sackville, Port Elgin, Dorchester and Memramcook, for use in outreach, education and communication.

Climate Change Adaptation: A Toolkit, prepared by EOS Eco-Energy, reports that if a storm predicted for the year 2055 — estimated by climate scientists to equal a 9.3 m (30.5 ft) deep flood in Sackville, New Brunswick — or if sea levels reach 12 m (39.3 ft) due to storm surges and severe weather events, Nova Scotia could become an island.

Still, getting the information to the people requires a large effort.

“In our community we held ‘Climate Change Adaptation Week’ during the week of March 11,” said Michael Fox, Geography & Environment Professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Fox has participated in the three years of study and planning that resulted in the ‘toolkit.’ “It was great.”

“In terms of the university, we have lots of resources and reports coming out, but we realized that doing studies is not connecting with anyone, so we worked with the stakeholders including the town council, the planning commission — because we must change the land use maps — and the NGOs (non-governmental organizations),” said Fox.

For “Climate Change Adaptation Week” students from Mount Allison’s class on climate change at the local level opened a storefront in downtown Sackville.

“We came up with all the different approaches, but the storefront was the most popular of the week,” said Fox. “We had lots of maps to show people the effects of sea level rise on the community if the dykes are breached.”

“We used a number of new reports from researchers on what the towns would look like with the floods: 30 percent would be underwater, the Trans Canada Highway would be underwater,” he added.


Maps prepared for Portsmouth’s city’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan illustrate how flooding at different depths will affect the city. The maps were designed to be used to prepare adaptation and mitigation plans for future sea level rise and extreme weather events.

One of the students put together a pamphlet called “Sackville Submerged” that outlined what people can do to prepare — mitigation and adaptation strategies to use at home and in the community. Dykes were built to protect agricultural areas from regular periodic flooding, but are not capable of protecting the transportation infrastructure.

Mitigation techniques suggested in the toolkit include convincing municipal government to increase the height of the dykes, banning new development in flood zones and offering incentives for the use of renewable energy sources.

“We need to talk to municipal leaders, the elderly… make people’s needs known,” said Fox. “Scenarios are changing with climate change, we can’t ‘sneak through’ here.”

Fox said he was pleased that the students became so interested in the Sackville community, more intensely than university students usually do. They prepared a 4-page insert for the weekly Sackville Tribune Post newspaper that circulated with the paper throughout the community.

“The students’ involvement is great, they’re being real citizens of the community,” said Fox. “There’s a great level of engagement.” Part of the involvement with the public included working across the Tantramar, with people on the Nova Scotia side.

“It’s been a successful year on a number of fronts,” Fox said.

Following the 2010 flooding, the regional planning authority held two public meetings, to listen to concerns from the public and respond to some of their questions, and then to examine the risk the community faces.

“The planning commission has tried to engage this small community in conversations. As it is a small community, capacity is a big issue,” said Sabine Dietz, New Brunswick provincial coordinator of the Regional Adaptation Collaborative (RAC).

In Tantramar, many of the players were around the table already — the dyke manager, who is part of the provincial government); the university, municipal councilors — they were all part of the process from the start, along with some nonprofits, Dietz explained.

“Nonprofits took on more of the facilitation role to keep the stakeholders at the table,” said Dietz. “In the 3-year process, as we moved along, all helped with the collaboration.” Forty people attended a climate change workshop in Sackville for stakeholders that included slides, a movie screening and presentations.

But even stakeholders are not the public, and Dietz praised the university students for engaging the public as they did.

“The students doing their thesis work held two Science Cafés — one topic was dykes, one was on planning,” said Dietz. “University students are going into the high schools. Their course required community work, so they went to high schools.”

She said the whole team has been focused on education and communications since January, to bring the communities up to speed.

“At some point people will have to approve what their elected officials decide, or they will have to push the elected officials to do what’s needed,” said Dietz. “We can communicate and educate all we want but then we need change.”

“We are publishing an adaptation tool for Tantramar,” Dietz said. “All the research is technological, so the tool will bring it down to people’s level to make it understandable.”

Sackville doesn’t sit on the ocean’s edge, so it’s harder to convince people of the danger of sea level rise, Dietz said.

“The university folks and students are informed, but we’re missing sectors of the community who are the most vulnerable. We’ can’t just hand out a tool and expect them to understand,” Dietz said. “Right now the education is mostly with stakeholders. We have to approach low-income people, the landlords and the developers.”

“Communication and education will go on, it’s an organic thing at this stage. We will have a large release of the tool/report,” said Dietz. “We’re just stuck now as a community — municipal councilors are not making a move to change.”


View of Portsmouth, New Hampshire from the harbor, used on the cover of the city’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan.

Since the revised flood plain maps are available now, when people get ‘antsy’ change can happen, she added. “The next step likely is some small community group that will push and support municipal government to make changes.”

In Nova Scotia, the government announced a Flood Mitigation Framework for the province at a meeting in Truro on April 5. Funds will be used to reduce flood risks from coastal flooding — sea level rise and storm surges — and downstream freshwater flooding in Cumberland County, the upper Bay of Fundy region. The initiatives will partner the county and the town of Truro.

“It will take unprecedented collaboration and cooperation to reduce the risk of flooding in vulnerable communities and prevent the kinds of terrible damage we have seen in the past,” said Lenore Zann, ministerial assistant for Environment, Climate Change and Flood Control.

“This initiative brings together many groups and several government departments to move beyond responding to flood events and their aftermath and taking action to identify ways to reduce flood risks in our communities,” Zann said while introducing the new initiative.

Nova Scotia has spent over $2.1 million (Cdn) repairing damages from two floods in the Truro area in 2012 and has applied for another $1.6 million in federal disaster funding. This does not include money spent by municipalities, businesses and individuals to repair damage.

“Historically, we have focused on immediate responses to flood events rather than working on reducing future flood risks,” explained a municipal official at the meeting. “This framework will help us look to the future and reduce the risk of floods with the objective to prevent damage where possible.”

The framework will provide $3 million (Cdn) annually, over the next five years, to help communities address flooding and provide leadership across departments.

Each year, $300,000 will be used for risk assessments to identify solutions, $700,000 will fund up to half the cost of community infrastructure investments to reduce floods, and $2 million will help improve existing safeguards such as dykes and berms.

“Flood mitigation projects are important to our community as Truro and Colchester areas have been historically prone to severe flooding,” said Truro Mayor Bill Mills. “I am sure this will prove to be a great partnership between Colchester County, the town of Truro and the province.”

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has a strategy to get the public involved and invested in planning for storm surges and other flooding. Peter L. Britz, Environmental Planner/Sustainability Coordinator for the city of Portsmouth, said the city plans a big public meeting for May 29.

“We’ll do a public rollout,” said Britz. Through a grant from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment (GOMC), planners have written a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan in which they have mapped out areas of the city showing the potential effects of storm surges based on two climate change scenarios: Mean Higher High Water and Mean Higher High Water with a 100-year coastal storm surge.

“Rather than do every possible scenario, we picked four elevations and came up with maps for each,” said Britz. The report shows how buildings, critical infrastructure and facilities would be affected by flooding, especially in 2050 and 2100 following the expected sea level rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions.


The Tantramar area of Southeast New Brunswick. Source: J. Bornemann.

“This report was based on a regional study: Climate Change in the Piscataqua/Great Bay Region: Past Present and Future by Cameron Wake and Elizabeth Burakowski from the University of New Hampshire.” said Britz. “Using this regional study and LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging) data we were able to provide a much more accurate local perspective for this work.”

“We want to give people a sense of which areas of the community are vulnerable and how they’ll adapt to it and strategize,” Britz said. “For instance, one example is they could build a tide gate across the embayment to control the tide. We also have to look at costs – how long it will take to build and how much it will cost to maintain.”

Much of Portsmouth, as in many old New England coastal cities, is reclaimed land — low-lying marshy areas that were filled in and built up.

“The low-lying and filled areas present the most immediate potential hazard,” said Britz. “They are fairly significant areas with historic buildings and homes.”

Britz said more work will be done besides the web page, such as adding information to the New Hampshire StormSmart Coasts website and adding adaptation plans into existing local plans and regulations.


The freshwater flood of 1962 in Sackville shows extensive flooding. Source: The “Moncton Daily Times,” Vol 85, April 4, 1962. Accessed from the Mt Allison University Archives.

“One recommendation of the report is to include a Community Resiliency to Climate Change element or chapter in the master plan” which is updated every 10 years,” said Britz. Relevant information also will be added to the local zoning ordinances, the hazard mitigation plan and site review regulations.

The report was prepared jointly by the city of Portsmouth Planning Department and: the Rockingham Planning Commission; University of New Hampshire Professors Paul Kirshen, Environmental Research Group and Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space; Tom Ballestero, Environmental Research Group; David Burdick, Natural Resources and the Environment and Chris Watson, GIS Consultant.


Dykelands Infastructure Assessment-Tantramar

New Brunswick Multi-Media Climate Change Project

New Brunswick Environment and Local Government Climate Change Indicators

ACASA Website

The Province of New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan

Efficiency New Brunswick

EOS Eco Energy

Climate Change Adaptation – A Toolkit

New Brunswick Coastal Areas Protection Policy

The Government of Canada’s Climate Change Website

Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction

StormSmart Coasts New Hampshire

New Hampshire Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (NHCAW) blog



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