Falmouth Board of Selectmen and Falmouth Planning Board members agreed that planning should begin now to protect the town from sea level rise and increased storm surge intensity.
The two boards held a joint meeting Monday, August 18, where the planning board presented three components of the comprehensive plan, including coastal resiliency policies.
“The 100-year storm can happen tomorrow. The urgency is now, or 10 years ago,” said planning board chairman Patricia K. Kerfoot.
Board of selectmen chairman Mary (Pat) Flynn pointed to evidence of erosion with the recent closing of a fifth section of Great Bay Street.
“The weakest point right now is Surf Drive and the bike path,” Douglas C. Brown said. He suggested turning one of the policies into action and form solutions, like building artificial dunes, barricades, or elevate the bike path.
“We need to get on this now,” he said.
Falmouth Department of Public Works director Raymond A. Jack said the primary concern with the bike path is the force main pipe running beneath it that services Woods Hole.
“The town has to make some hard decisions in the foreseeable future about alternate routes. Until then, he said, it is very difficult to plan for it,” he said.
The conversation turned to whether the town should rebuild all infrastructure after a destructive storm, or whether it should decide now that abandonment is an option.
“Aren’t there certain circumstances when the town should retreat?” asked selectman vice chairman Douglas H. Jones.
Ms. Flynn said vulnerability to storms and costs to rebuild should be considered in the set of policies.
Ms. Kerfoot referred to the future Little Pond sewer project and asked if it should be the town’s responsibility to rebuild it should a storm wipe out that area of town.
“This is a very polarizing issue,” she said and suggested leaving abandonment out of the written policy, but to consider placing it in the action items.
James E. Fox said there are innovative ways to bolster the town as New Jersey has done in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“Abandonment is a last resort and I don’t think we should have a policy of last resort,” he said.
Selectman Susan L. Moran said it is a monetary issue for the town and suggested calculating costs associated with rebuilding infrastructure like sewer lines.
While the selectmen did not discuss the planning board’s land use policies that need Town Meeting approval, they did discuss a few of the action items. These are amenable to change and do not need Town Meeting approval.
Ms. Flynn asked town planner Brian A. Currie why Falmouth needs a redevelopment authority.
“We’ve been doing it ourselves for a long time and I think we’ve been pretty successful at it,” she said.
Mr. Currie responded the town may want to consider it if they want more redevelopment.
Ms. Flynn said Falmouth has limited space for development, and redevelopment is the town’s future.
Mr. Currie, in response to a question to define a “TDR” said it’s the transfer of development rights. Falmouth could create a TDR bank where development rights can be stored temporarily before being purchased by a developer.
Typically TDRs allow a landowner to give their development rights to the town in exchange for a conservation restriction. A developer can pay the town for those rights to create higher density direct growth away from lands that should be preserved to locations well suited to higher density in areas the town earmarks for growth.
Mr. Currie said the concept has worked well in other Massachusetts towns like Amherst. It has been on Falmouth’s books since 1985 and is not widely used.
The conversation between the boards will continue. Ms. Kerfoot hopes selectmen will approve the draft land use and coastal resiliency components and recommend them to Fall Town Meeting. The housing portion needs further discussion as well. Both boards will look at a comprehensive town housing study that was just completed this week.