Catherine Carlock Oct 17, 2018
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Wednesday announced a sweeping plan to protect the city’s 47-mile shoreline ahead of a major environmental disaster, calling climate change “an urgent priority” for Boston and urging business leaders to participate in the comprehensive citywide resiliency plan.
The “Resilient Boston Harbor” initiative aims to create a district-wide waterfront protection plan, laying out strategies to protect the shoreline of East Boston, Charlestown, downtown, South Boston and Dorchester. It also creates an additional 67 acres of open space along the water. Some of the plan’s early strategies include elevating transportation corridors and redesigning waterfront parks, integrating resiliency measures into newly constructed buildings and bolstering existing buildings with flood resiliency measures.
“We’re not just planning for the next storm we will face — we’re planning for storms the next generation will face. This is a moment they’ll look back and judge us by,” Walsh said Wednesday to a group of business leaders at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce government affairs forum. “Our downtown financial engines are at stake. Hundreds of small businesses are at stake. Many thousands of homes are at stake. Billions of dollars of public and private investment, and property, and infrastructure are at stake.”
He showed the crowd a map of Boston Harbor in 2070 with 40 inches of sea level rise during a 100-year storm event, which would potentially see waters from the Fort Point Channel and Dorchester Bay flooding into the middle of Dorchester.
There’s no specific cost pegged to the Resilient Boston Harbor plan. But the Harborwalk alone touches at least 356 pieces of private property, and the city says that implementing Resilient Boston Harbor “will require collaboration and funding between federal, state, private, philanthropic and nonprofit partners.”
To that end, Walsh pledged to commit 10 percent of the city’s capital budget toward resiliency projects. There’s a $160 million cap on newly built capital allocations, so a 10 percent allocation would be about $16 million annually, he said.
“We don’t have to look far for early warning signs, Walsh said. “A dumpster floating down the street at Fort Point in January. Blue Line tracks underwater in March. Floodwaters in Christopher Columbus Park, reaching the Rose Kennedy Greenway for the first time. King tides that routinely flood the Harbor Walk. Driftwood on a soccer field at LoPresti Park in East Boston. The hottest and most humid summer in our recorded history — this year. Climate change is very real to Bostonians.”
The city has already launched neighborhood-specific climate resiliency studies in East Boston and Charlestown, which suggest $160 million worth of upgrades and $50 million in upgrades for each neighborhood but could prevent a potential $480 million in damages and $200 million in future damages, respectively, should the city be hit by a major storm. Walsh on Wednesday released a South Boston-specific climate resiliency plan, which outlines suggestions that could cost up to $1 billion to implement in the coming decades but could prevent up to $19 billion in citywide damages.
Making an upfront investment is key to both preservation of existing assets as well as limiting costs from damages if a major storm such as Hurricane Sandy, Katrina or Harvey were to devastate Boston, Walsh said.
“Making investments in this type of work is key to the future of our city,” Walsh said. “New Orleans had to plan after Katrina. We want to get ahead of this game and plan before something happens like that. … We either invest now, or else we pay a much bigger price later.”
The city has started conversations with property owners in the Fort Point Channel, including General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), MassDevelopment, Synergy Investments, Hunneman and the Boston Children’s Museum, to discuss immediate steps for flood protection along the Fort Point Channel.
Walsh conceded that not every private property owner might participate in the Resilient Boston Harbor plan, but contended that it’s in business owner’s best interests to plan ahead for a major environmental disaster rather than having to rebuild a building after devastation happens.
“The investments you make now are the savings of tomorrow,” Walsh said. “I think a lot of businesses will see the importance of this plan.”
Kathy Abbott, President and CEO of Boston Harbor Now, commended the plan, saying her waterfront advocacy organization commended Walsh for seizing the moment to design an accessible, inclusive waterfront.
“Building a resilient city is a serious challenge in response to a sobering threat, but it also brings enormous opportunity to re-think our relationship to the Harbor and create a world-class waterfront,” Abbott said in a statement. “The urgency of climate change requires all of us to step up and work together like never before.”
Bud Ris, senior advisor to the Boston Green Ribbon Commission and former CEO of the New England Aquarium, touted the plan as “exactly the kind of approach Boston should be taking.”
“Resilient Boston Harbor will not only strengthen the city against the impacts of climate change, it will create a fantastic urban waterfront, opening up many new opportunities to improve public access to the Harbor,” Ris said in a statement.
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