By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(March 7, 2019) The Town of Berlin will begin a series of public meetings on environmental and operational resiliency next week, capping a nearly decade-long group of sessions designed to gather public opinion on a variety of subjects, including stormwater and community growth.
According to a press release from the town, “Berlin has received a grant to complete a ‘Resilience Element’ for our Comprehensive Plan. As communities adjust to increasingly extreme weather events, stress on public facilities, and higher costs of services, there is growing need to not only plan for these events, but to also reduce the impacts through conscious climate adaptation and resilience planning. We want to hear what you think about climate change, funding our future, and growth.”
Mayor Gee Williams said the meetings will be about how the town “can be a sustainable community in three areas.”
“One is in matters of financial sustainability, so that means basically saying we want to make sure that what we’re doing makes good sense in terms of dollars and cents,” he said. “The second element is growth and issues related to growth, and the third is the resilience and sustainability of our natural environment.
“The three are definitely interrelated and anybody that thinks they’re separate is simply not facing the reality that they’re all interconnected,” Williams added.
He said the reason for the meetings is not just to hear from the public, but also to let residents know what their government is doing.
During earlier meetings on stormwater, for example, public hearings were held throughout the community in 2012, 2013 and 2014 as the town established a stormwater utility and began seeking grants to reduce flooding in several key areas.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Department of the Environment participated in those discussions.
“When we first began, everybody was asking ‘what is it?’ By the time we were done, people were saying, ‘Well, we not only want you to do it, we want you to start in our neighborhood,’” Williams said.
“We’re doing something that most small communities don’t even want to touch yet, and so we’re a part of the learning curve that, these are very good solutions, but they cost more than we expect,” he added.
Williams said in each case, the meetings were and are meant to be open for community discussion and involvement, rather than strictly being a series of lectures by town officials.
“They’re engaged and a part of process and, generally speaking, it shows that people in the community have very high expectations and have had them for some time,” he said. “We’re trying to meet those much-higher expectations in all things, but we want people to be informed as to what’s involved.
“It’s not to tell people what to think – it’s for us to find out what’s on people’s minds and give them a chance to be involved, and then we can take that information and use it as one of the many criteria we have to take in consideration when we make a decision on behalf of the community,” Williams said.
He said response during prior meetings were “beyond our expectations.”
“They were all very well attended and people didn’t just sit there, they got involved,” Williams said.
“If they want to waste their time on social media trying to implement public policy, then so be it. That’s their decision,” he said. “But if they want to actually make a difference, then they need to fulfill their responsibilities just as we are trying to do as public servants by actually coming out, [and] talking people to people with obvious thoughtfulness and civility, because that’s how things get done in this town. And I see no reason why we should change that approach – it’s working.”
The Resiliency Grant Community Meeting schedule is as follows:
March 14, 6-9 p.m. at Buckingham Elementary School
March 16, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Worcester County Library
March 18, 6 – 9 p.m. at the multipurpose building on Flower Street
For more information, visit www.berlinmd.gov/town-events/resiliency-grant-community-meeting.