The Bulletin Board

Vulnerability of state’s infrastructure takes center stage at roundtable discussion

By: - August 6, 2021 2:29 pm
A view of Concord from the Merrimack River

Some cities won’t finish redrawing their wards to reflect the most recent census data until January. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Jay Minkarah hadn’t thought about the possibility of a severe flood shutting down the Central New Hampshire Turnpike in Merrimack until he worked on a Department of Transportation assessment looking at exactly that scenario.

“It really brought home to me the vulnerability of our infrastructure at a time when we are, you know, pretty clearly facing more severe storm events, both in frequency and intensity,” said Minkarah, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission on Friday.

Some elected officials have estimated that the impact of severe flooding in parts of southern New Hampshire following the July 18 storm has done millions in damage.

“Our infrastructure is vulnerable,” Minkarah said.

He is hopeful that the bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s currently being debated in the U.S. Senate will help fix that. And he’s not alone.

At a roundtable on Friday hosted by Sen. Maggie Hassan, other experts from New Hampshire discussed the impact the infrastructure bill would have in various sectors in the state – from the broadband buildout to clean energy initiatives.

Mike Smith, president of the New Hampshire Building and Construction Trades Council, said the bill would bring jobs and boost the economy.

“The building trades represent thousands of people in New Hampshire who will go to work on these projects, making good benefits and good wages, being able to support their families,” Smith said.

Some participants were more skeptical about how much New Hampshire residents should expect the infrastructure package to accomplish. Erik Chapman, director of the New Hampshire Sea Grant at UNH, underscored the risks the state is currently facing.

“Billions of dollars of property value are at risk, roads and infrastructure are at risk, municipal, state, and other community facilities are at risk. Thousands of acres of conservation land that’s important as conservation land but also because it provides critical processes and mitigates the effects of climate change and supports resource-based economies is at risk. Recreational commercial fishing and our oyster industry is at risk. And our tax base is at risk,” Chapman said.

That risk is being driven by increased storm intensity, sea level rise, sunny day flooding, and tidal flooding, threatening property and infrastructure, according to Chapman. He also pointed to the public health impacts from overall warming. Hundreds of people died because of recent heat waves that swept across the West. And urban areas of New Hampshire are warming much faster than models predicted, with more than 32 days over 90 degrees in Manchester last year. Models predicted that wouldn’t happen until 2035.

Chapman said the infrastructure bill before Congress won’t be enough to solve the issues the state and country are facing.

“The common theme for all of this that’s underway is that what we’re doing only touches the tip of the iceberg for what needs to happen,” he said.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.