Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Local News

Chester, Deep River and Essex Update Plans for Natural Hazards

Flash flooding. Downed trees. Impassable roads.

These are just a few examples of what residents in Chester, Deep River, and Essex have experienced when severe weather-related events occur in Middlesex County.

Although these events cannot be prevented, local, state, and national officials can plan for them through a multi-jurisdictional Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) is in the process of updating the plans of 15 of the 17 municipalities within its jurisdiction, which includes Chester, Deep River and Essex. While these plans act as an important planning tool for these communities, they also renew a town’s eligibility for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) natural disaster grants.

“It’s a requirement by FEMA for granting purposes that you have a natural hazard mitigation plan,” said Margot Roberts, environmental planner for RiverCOG. “It’s supposed to be updated every five years, so that if they choose, [the towns] are able to apply for FEMA funding.”

The plans for Chester, Deep River, and Essex were last updated in 2014.

This year’s update will address “floods, nor’easters, and hurricanes” as they “rank among the region’s greatest concerns. Although less of a concern, the plan will also look at wildfire, drought, and extreme hot and cold,” according to RiverCOG.

RiverCOG and the consulting firm, Dewberry Engineers, Inc., work with a Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan Update Planning Team, which is made up of one representative from each town to narrow their focus on hazards specific to each town or area.

The consulting town planner for the town of Essex, John Guszkowski, is working with Essex town officials and providing input on the town’s updates.

“We have been taking a look at our plan from the last five years and seeing what we have been able to accomplish and areas that are still high priorities,” said Guszkowski. “We also assess how we have managed natural hazard issues over the last five years.”

The natural hazards for Essex “tend to be in relation to nor’easters, winter storms, [and] ice storms with a combination of blocked roads, downed trees, much more than flooding,” he adds.

Data that goes into determining specific hazards includes “historical damage information, historical and future storm, weather and earthquake data, as well as municipal infrastructure and tax assessor building data,” said Roberts by email.

“This data is used to assess, through different modeling methodologies, what damage has occurred in the past and could be caused in the future.”

Public input is another important component of revising the plans.

On May 28, RiverCOG with Dewberry Engineers, Inc. held a virtual public meeting to discuss the plan’s updates. They are also seeking responses to a survey, which is available in the QuickLinks section of RiverCOG’s web site,

“The survey serves to provide input from the communities in terms of individual awareness, preparedness, and experiences with natural hazards,” said Roberts by email.

RiverCog anticipates a draft of the plan will be ready for municipal review in the first weeks of July.

The plan will go through a rigorous review process involving the Connecticut State Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and FEMA before being adopted by the boards of selectmen in the towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at

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