Scituate’s shores may have finally calmed down after the four severe storms that smashed the coast since October, but the town budget is still taking a beating.
In addition to an estimated $5 million in shoreline damage, Scituate officials have added up nearly $1 million in costs associated with storm cleanup from the storms: October's Superstorm Sandy, the November's Nor’Easter, February's Nemo, and March's storm Saturn.
According to officials, Scituate will entirely be on the hook for cleanup costs associated with the 2012 Nor’easter ($69,500), and Saturn ($160,000), neither of which qualifies for FEMA funding.
However, $726,000 -- $121,000 from Sandy, and $605,000 from Nemo -- may be partially reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the town declared an emergency for both.
Even then, FEMA would cover 75 percent of that cost, leaving the town with the tab for the rest.
Officials will ask the town to use nearly $1 million from reserves to cover cleanup costs in the meantime, an appropriation that will need Town Meeting approval.
“One or two storms eats up 30 percent of our stabilization fund,” said Selectman Tony Vegnani during a meeting a week before next Tuesday's Town Meeting, noting that the town had worked hard to build up a $3 million reserve.
“At least we have it. Otherwise, we’d be cutting to the bone in [the] operating [budget],” Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said.
The $955,500 would cover costs for cleanup, overtime, and other services, but not the $5 million estimate the town submitted for damage done to coastal areas during Nemo and Sandy.
If approved by the Federal Emergency Management Association, those damages would be covered 75 percent by the federal government. That would still leave Scituate with a $1.25 million bill to repair only the most recent damage to their sea walls and other protections.
The pricey problems have prompted officials to start looking at longer-term measures to deal with what subsequent winters and climate change may bring.
To help sort out solutions, Selectman Rick Murray announced during the Tuesday meeting that he hopes to form a working group after Town Meeting to start reviewing responses to the climate change.
“In addition to foreshore protection, what’s the future of our wastewater treatment plant? …We need to start having those discussions,” Murray said.
The group would look at the impacts storms are having on the entire town, and measuring how closely related those impacts are to sea-level rise and global warming.
“We need to group these together to get our hands around it. In addition to the coast, this climate change and storms are affecting the entire town,” he said. “Power lines go across town, we have flooding across town … there are significant costs longer than things we’ll be able to deal with on the short term.”
Murray said he’s already started discussions with Coastal Zone Management, and hopes to bring people on board in the near future.