Stonington works with graduate students to design green infrastructure for Mystic

Nearly 50 people gathered at the Mystic Fire Station Jan. 23 to voice their concerns about Mystic’s future in the face of climate change. Those documenting their concerns were graduate students from The Conway School in Northampton, Mass., a master’s program where students practice ecologically and socially sustainable landscape design.

Keith Brynes, Stonington’s town planner, received a grant from The Nature Conservancy to work with the school. The grant covers a 10-month investigation by the graduate students and a final copy of detailed plans for Mystic. Cary White, a community resilience professional at The Nature Conservancy, said this was its first project with the Conway School.

Stonington was able to qualify for the grant due to completion of the town’s Coastal Resilience Plan, published in August 2017. It is an 80-page collaborative effort including a coastal risk assessment and financial considerations. Additionally, when applying for grants, it acts as a testament to the town’s commitment to sustainability, and a resource for landscape architects and other professionals.

Conway students were assigned by Stonington to develop site-specific planning for both the coast and inland of Mystic. Still in the research phase of what is being called the Mystic Shoreline and Inland Climate Interventions Project, the Conway students traveled to Mystic to connect with locals.

Townspeople were asked what places in Mystic are most vulnerable, and if there are already sites succumbing to the negative impacts of flooding, sea-level rise, and watershed contamination. They were given small maps to mark site-specific locations and were then asked to consider which types of green infrastructure work best at each site. Infrastructure included minor changes such as permeable pavement, as well as major solutions such as oyster reefs or marshes.

The grant secures planning, but not implementation, as is true with Stonington’s Coastal Resilience Plan. The cost of implementation is a looming worry for towns throughout New England facing similar issues.

“Plans don’t self-implement,” says Jason Vincent, director of planning for the town of Stonington, “they need resources, human resources, political support and funding.”

The department of planning recently submitted a request on behalf of Stonington’s Coastal Resilience Plan to secure $100,000 a year for the next decade, funding dedicated to planning initiatives such as this partnership with The Conway School. The funding will allow Stonington to develop plans without having to rely on grants alone.

Vincent stressed the need for townspeople to vocalize their priorities if they hope to see funds for additional planning, as well as eventual, larger funds for implementation.

If planning is done, then when funding does become available, whether it is provided by the state government, a grant or tax dollars, the town can begin to assemble the resources required to build.

The Conway School students will be back after analyzing and utilizing the information they walked away with last month. They hope to keep close collaboration with the community throughout the process, as is characteristic of their past work with site-specific planning throughout New England.


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