Manor officials downplay threat of storms like Ida, leaving village at mercy of extreme weather

To the editor:

During the Sept. 27 Village of Pelham Manor Board of Trustees meeting, it was highly concerning to hear the mayor, trustees, and village manager misconstrue the meaning behind the labeling of Ida as a “100-year” or “500-year” weather event, both in terms of probability, and more importantly, its implications for responsive and inclusive governance on such a vital issue.

Put simply, their remarks erroneously downplayed the threat that storms like Ida pose to our community and neighbors by describing them as highly unlikely to be seen again in our lifetimes. Yet by dismissing the need to integrate extreme weather into Manor infrastructure or sustainability planning, our village will remain unprepared and at the mercy of Mother Nature.

What should raise alarm bells is that these labels no longer hold the same meaning they did, say, decades ago. Experts are now calling more and more storms like Ida “100-year” or “500-year” events because they are of such magnitude and frequency that our current models have had to be recalibrated to infer accurate meaning from them statistically. It’s worth noting that global climate researchers (MIT, Princeton, UN IPCC) have demonstrated that “100-year” weather events are likely to reoccur every three to 20 years as a result of the current rate and pace of climate change. “Five-hundred-year” weather events are likely to reoccur every 25 to 240 years. In Texas for example, “500-year” storms and floods have occurred annually over the past five years.

Closer to home and similar to Ida, Hurricane Irene was classified as a “100-year” storm and the “storm of the century” when it hit our area just ten years ago in 2011. Of course we know that Superstorm Sandy, also classified as a “100-year” event, followed on Irene’s heels one year later in 2012. Sandy leveled our village (raise your hand if you were among those who had trees come crashing down on your property and lost power for a week). Three extreme weather events hit our community in a 10-year span. This fits neatly within the probability predicted by the “100-year” model.

Why, then, should we care about how our elected officials frame storm labels as markers of extreme weather probability? Because misrepresentation can lead to the rationalization of inaction and increased risk exposure—neither of which constitutes good governance. And, it justifies as sufficient the status quo because, well, we are all comforted by public reassurances that storms like this are beyond our control to mitigate or are once in a lifetime events. But our own lived experience here in Pelham highlights that they aren’t.

It has been heartbreaking to learn about how many of our neighbors lost cherished mementos, automobiles and portions of their homes after Ida—not to mention the emotional anguish they endured by experiencing this natural disaster in real time. Let’s not forget that many had to be rescued from their homes or cars. We are so lucky there wasn’t loss of life as was the case in nearby communities. The implications of climate change for our village are obvious, if we interpret the probability labels appropriately and plan accordingly.

The mayor and trustees have a responsibility to prepare our community to withstand the next Ida, the next Sandy and the next Irene. We urge them to address fully the threat that extreme weather events pose to our community—and to devise long-term disaster risk reduction goals to prevent and mitigate future damage and hardship to our neighbors. This includes going beyond simple maintenance and comprehensively addressing our ageing storm-water and sanitary-sewage infrastructure.

A first, inclusive step would be to invite the diverse talent and expertise of those within our community to have a voice in shaping Manor climate and environmental policy and practice.

The mayor and board of trustees can do this by adopting a referendum creating a Pelham Manor Sustainability Advisory Board, constituted of community members and others with the requisite professional competencies and creativity to innovate a multi-year disaster mitigation planning and risk-reduction strategy for our village. It would draw on best practices of other municipalities, and its charge could mirror the Village of Pelham’s Sustainability Advisory Board: “To prioritize goals, develop programs and recommend policy, legislation and code amendments that encourage and contribute to the environmental, social and economic sustainability.”

The time is now. If you agree, we encourage you to email or phone the mayor and board of trustees to express your support for responsive and inclusive governance on this crucial issue that affects us all.

Thank you.

Melissa Labonte

19 Garden Road

Allison Frost

Toby Marxuach-Gusciora

Andrea Ziegelman

Melissa Eustace

Peter Hoffmann

Samantha Post

Peggy Nicholson

Janice Powers

Mariette Morrissey

Tom Morrissey

Nandini Anandu

Sanjay Naik

Seth Cohn

Katherine Pringle

Sara Mallach

Larry Mallach

Alexy Scholl

Michael Teitelbaum

Maria F. Pannullo

Scott Brown

Frederick Caillate

Helene Caillate

Tai Montanarella

Carol Ipsen