Advocacy to Become Wildfire Ready
Mitigating Against Wildfires Takes A Comprehensive Approach!
Southampton's Shade Tree Commission has been an advocate for wildfire protection. They have been working on initiatives to make Southampton "Wildfire Ready". They have been working with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service to seek grant funding for the program.
The Commission developed an outstanding State Farm safety grant proposal which would have made Southampton a “Wildfire Ready Community” by developing a “Wildfire Ready” program. $24,440.00 was going to be requested from State Farm to assist with the implementation of the program. The Commission was hoping to have $2,500.00 for the program appropriated in the 2016 municipal budget. The Commission had also received a commitment from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service to provide at least $1,000.00 towards the project.
The Commission wanted to work with the Township Committee to create a nine member wildfire advisory council to make the community fire adaptable and to encourage collaboration. The Commission was also going to sponsor a breakfast with Smokey Bear for children and a wildfire prevention workshop for adults. In addition, they were going to procure and install a three-dimensional Smokey Bear fiberglass structure in a high visibility area of the town in an effort to draw constant attention to wildfire preparedness. It was their hope involve the neighborhood environmental and garden clubs to work with them to beautify the area surrounding the structure.
The Commission completed a windshield survey and found that twenty-four out of thirty access road lacked signage indicating the beginning of Southampton, at the municipal boundary. As a result of these findings, twenty-four “Welcome to Southampton Township, Emergency Dial 9-1-1” were going to be purchased and installed. A wildfire awareness sign was also going to be purchased and installed on all thirty access roads, at the municipal boundary, entering Southampton. The plans for increased signage would have improved emergency communication accuracy, reduced response times, and provided preventive reminders.
Commission Chairman, Doug Melegari, submitted an e-mail request for the Township Committee to pass a resolution of support for the grant proposal during their October 19 meeting. He met the deadline for the item to be placed on the meeting agenda. The grant proposal had to be submitted by October 31. Unfortunately, the resolution of support was not placed on the agenda. Mr. Melegari went up twice, during the public portion, and pleaded with the Committee to add it on due to the impending deadline. However, the Township Committee didn’t add it because they didn’t read the proposal. It was suggested at this Twp. Committee meeting that they didn’t read the proposal since it was not in their packet which corresponds to the agenda. Since the grant proposal would have required the Department of Public Works to assist with the installations and $2,500.00 in municipal funding was necessary for program success, the proposal was stopped dead in its tracks. The proposal could not be submitted without the Committee’s support. Chairman Melegari has expressed his willingness to try again in 2016 if the application re-appears on the State Farm website.
The bottom line is the Commission has been advocating for the residents facing the threat of wildfire, while the Township Committee has been unprepared and unaware of the urgent need for preparedness.
In the meantime, the Shade Tree Commission was able to get Southampton officials to sign the Community Wildfire Protection Plan the week of February 3, 2015. Wildfire prevention information has also been uploaded on the Twp. Website, under "Shade Tree Commission".