Stakeholder Engagement and Local Participation –Critical Components of any Planning Process

Team members from VPC travelled to Tunkahannock, Pennsylvania earlier this month to hold the first set of meetings for the 2018 Wyoming County Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) Update. Afternoon and evening meetings were held for the County Steering Committee, and municipal representatives, respectively. The attendance level for the municipal meeting was among the highest for any plan completed by VPC. The County EOC had standing room only for the 6pm meeting, and over 90 percent of the municipalities sent at least one representative, and 3 or 4 members, in some instances.

Anyone familiar with Pennsylvania’s style of government knows that the counties are comprised of townships, boroughs, and cities. Almost all legislative, regulatory, and zoning planning is handled at these local levels. The overwhelming participation of the municipalities in Wyoming County cements the fact that stakeholder engagement and local participation are the cornerstones of an effective planning process. Not only do these planning meetings provide the opportunity to explain the project purpose, planning process, action development, timelines, and deliverables to the local jurisdictions, they also provide an outlet to encourage discussion, collaboration, and an opportunity to gather more information on current hazard conditions, projects, and potential challenges.

A particular concern for Wyoming County was the increased number of natural gas wells/pads, pipelines, and compression stations throughout the county. Both the County Steering Committee and municipal representatives requested the inclusion of unconventional wells and pipelines to the list of hazards affecting the County. The meetings allow an opportunity to discuss changing the prioritization (Low, Moderate, High) for the identified hazards based on the probability of them occurring in each municipality. For example, Northmoreland Township may be more at-risk to pipeline hazards than Braintrim, or Forkston may be less at-risk to flooding than Nicholson. Using the County rankings as a baseline, hazards can be moved from high to moderate or from moderate to low for each jurisdiction, as the case may be.

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Multiple outreach methods were used to gain such high participation levels in Wyoming County. An online Capabilities survey was developed and distributed. Additionally, worksheets were emailed to the jurisdictions directly to gather information on their current and past mitigation actions. Finally, face-to-face meetings were held after the municipal meeting in order to gather necessary information from those jurisdictions unable to complete the worksheets or surveys online, or who had questions prior to submitting.

By soliciting local input and participation, communities not only meet the Federal requirements to allow “an opportunity for neighboring communities, local and regional agencies involved in hazard mitigation activities, and agencies that have the authority to regulate development, as well as businesses, academia and other private and non-profit interests to be involved in the planning process,” but also it also helps gather more buy-in and general support for the projects, as a whole. When community leaders and decision makers feel like a part of the process, they are more inclined to become champions for these mitigation projects.

Do you have questions about increasing participation in your county? Are you preparing to update your HMP? Contact us to see how VPC can help you with your planning project!

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