Climate, Health Adaptation Plan moves forward
MARQUETTE — The Marquette Area Climate & Health Adaptation Plan is one step closer to implementation.
Brad Neumann, senior extension educator at Michigan State University Extension, along with Marquette County Health Department Health Officer Gerald Messana, offered an update on the development of the Marquette Area Climate Adaptation Plan at the Northern Climate Network’s Climate at Noon talk Friday.
Neumann said the project has reached a point where they wanted to offer a public update with the culmination of the 2018 fiscal year and the end of the project’s second year, as it’s been “a successful project already.”
He explained the climate and health adaptation plan has worked to identify pathways through which climate change impacts human health — for example, warmer weather leading to increased risk of wildfire, as well as an increased risk of vector-borne disease — and aims to modify these pathways through design and infrastructure interventions implemented at individual and community-wide levels.
“If somebody does live in a wildfire hazard area, with some very simple design changes or landscape changes around their property, they can help to protect themselves from a structure fire in the event of a wildfire coming through, but also keeping that tick vector at bay,” Neumann said in an interview. “So some of the things we talk about in order to make one’s property less susceptible to wildfire are keeping one’s vegetation cut lower near the home, keeping that in good health and keeping it green as opposed to dry and keeping the property fairly manicured.”
These recommended adaptations will be outlined in a guidebook that shows individuals and communities detailed visual examples of how they can prevent or mitigate the impacts of climate change on public health.
“A lot of this has emphasis on improved or amended physical design or use of different types of infrastructure versus another,” Neumann said.
While many agencies have started addressing climate adaptation, Neumann said this is a novel project and program because it goes one step further to address the public health impact of climate change.
“I think this project is rather unique, in that we’re taking it to that next step to be able to trace it all the way from the regional change to how that’s manifested within the county, whether it’s wildfire or flooding, and then exactly how did that flood impact an average neighborhood, or of particular concern, an isolated or socially or economically disadvantaged individual in the county,” he said.
The three-phase project, which began in spring 2017, has been led by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Program, along with the Michigan State University School of Planning, Design and Construction, Neumann said.
These two agencies worked collaboratively to identify a partner community for the project, eventually selecting Marquette County to be the site of the state’s rural climate health adaptation program pilot for a number of reasons, Neumann and Messana said.
One reason was the area’s “advanced community starting point,” Messana said, as Marquette County already had many agencies working on issues related to climate change and its impacts on human health, as well as community interest in climate adaptations.
“When you look at the readiness of Marquette County, the fact that we have the infrastructure, the fact that we have interest in people, the fact that we don’t have a lot of resistance we do have documents that can be built on and compared to see progress on future efforts, I think that’s what made Marquette a pretty valuable target for this program,” Messana said.
Since Marquette County was selected as the rural pilot project site, MSU and MDHHS have worked closely with the Marquette County Health Department and the Marquette Area Climate Adaptation Task Force, Neumann and Messana said.
The Marquette County Health Department itself became involved in the project because of the agency’s existing knowledge and expertise in public health impacts of local climate change, Messana said.
“We have done a lot of outreach identifying the key stakeholders, local resources, local technical and environmental expertise,” he said. “I think that was critical when we talked about the wildfires and the aquifers and so forth, there’s a lot of information our environmental health department had based on their knowledge of the geography and some of the outreach that they’ve done.”
Beginning in July 2017, the project team met with over 30 stakeholder groups in Marquette County. The stakeholder groups represented diverse groups, such as those involved in climate change and health, as well as local governments and vulnerable populations. Phase I then culminated with a CATF meeting to identify the key issues in the county, Neumann said.
Through these meetings, four primary priorities emerged: vector awareness, air quality, emergency response/extreme events and water-related issues, Neumann said. Two secondary priorities, ticks and air quality, also emerged from the meeting, he said.
The project’s second phase began with a kickoff meeting in November 2017 where the public was able to hear a summary of the feedback gathered from stakeholder groups over the summer and provide input on priorities, adaptations and other issues, Neumann said.
Preliminary policy and design recommendations were then presented at another community meeting in March where residents were able to give additional feedback, he said.
Now, the team is preparing for the release of the guidebook that will guide the project’s implementation, Neumann said, noting that the release is likely to occur this fall.
Volume I will consist of a visual adaptation design guide aimed at residents and community leaders to help them develop and visualize recommended adaptations, he said. It will feature local adaptation design examples, information about design considerations, community feedback and input, as well as sample policies and metrics.
Volume II, which is aimed at community leaders, will include specific policy recommendations for each of the four categories. Each topic within the second volume is broken down into a chart that explains the climate driver and its impact, along with interventions, recommendations and metrics to measure the success of a given recommendation implementation over time, he said.
Neumann said the next step is implementation, which will begin with the project’s third phase in 2019, noting that “like any planning activity, the value of the exercise really comes down to whether or not it is implemented.”
With each municipality in Marquette County having its own zoning rules and regulations, Neumann said it will be important to engage many parties in the implementation process.
“The power to implement most of what’s in this guide is at the local level,” he said. “And so the implementation phase is going to be very much an exercise of re-engaging stakeholders, particularly at the local government level.”
Beginning in early 2019, the group will “put together all the key stakeholders that will be changing the plans, rewriting ordinances and finding funding opportunities” to prioritize the implementation steps of the plan, Neumann said.