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Amherst council approves regional hazard mitigation plan

Amherst council approves regional hazard mitigation plan

Amherst Town Council unanimously approved a regional plan to mitigate damage after natural disasters, including tornados, winds, wildfires and flooding, during its Feb. 10 meeting.

The plan identifies hazards and area vulnerabilities, establishes goals and objectives and presents regional and locality- specific strategies, or potential actions, to lessen the overall effect from disasters to homes, businesses and property. It covers Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell counties, the city of Lynchburg and the towns of Altavista, Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Brookneal.

Kelly Hitchcock, planning and development coordinator with the Central Virginia Planning District Commission, said the plan’s update is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and came after extensive work among various stakeholders and three rounds of a public outreach process, including one more for good measure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal law requires development of a pre-disaster mitigation plan as a requirement for eligibility to receive funding from the federal government’s programs, according to a resolution council approved.

“If you do these things up front, the cost is less than doing it on the back end,” Hitchcock said.

Amherst County’s brush with disasters in the past decade include widespread power outages and damage to homes and structures from the summer 2012 derecho wind storm, a massive wildfire that consumed 11,000 acres in the Mount Pleasant area in November 2016 and an April 2018 tornado that devastated the Elon community. The tornado led a few months later to the Amherst Disaster Recovery Group, which helped affected families in the recovery process, and that entity is able to help the county deal with any future disasters in similar fashion.

First created in 2006, the plan includes strategies to prepare for disasters and must be updated every five years. Hitchcock said strategies are not financial commitments from localities, but are to simply measures that can be taken. Just more than a dozen strategies unique to the town of Amherst are identified in the plan, she said.

FEMA approved the plan in January pending adoption from participating localities, Hitchcock said.

Also during the meeting, Amherst Town Manager Sara Carter said the town intends to pursue state grant funds for the purpose of adding a generator to a water tank on Waugh’s Ferry Road. The town’s intent was for the generator’s inclusion in the town’s water treatment plant renovation project, but Carter said it was left out when the overall bid was higher than anticipated.

The Waugh’s Ferry tank supplies water to Sweet Briar College, Carter said. “And we’ve always felt like this was a public safety issue, that we do not have water to [supply] Sweet Briar if we have a power outage at the water tank.”

Carter said a generator could be brought to the site during outages, but for the long-term sustainability of the town’s utility system a permanent generator is needed. The town is using the engineering work already done for pursuing the generator project, a line item of $150,000, in pursuing state grant opportunities, Carter said.

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