Climate Change Causing Residents to Think Ahead and Being Prepared

Jack Wiggin, Professor at the University of Massachusetts, talks about the risks East Boston faces during a Sandy-like super storm that hit New York and New Jersey last year.

Jack Wiggin, Professor at the University of Massachusetts, talks
about the risks East Boston faces during a Sandy-like super
storm that hit New York and New Jersey last year.

Last Wednesday, planners and East Boston residents took an important step toward storm surge preparedness during a meeting at Maverick Landing.

To prepare residents for a series of flood planning workshops with agencies and scientists residents heard from experts in climate change and storm surge awareness. The discussion during the meeting focused on climate change, storm surge, local flood risks and planning responses.

“We feel that the presentation went really well,’ said Chris Marchi, NOAH’s Director of Community Building and Environment.  “But we recognize that we may need to hold a few meetings in venues closer to the different neighborhoods to really get people from Orient Heights, Jeffries Point and Eagle  Hill involved.”

The effort that is underway is a pilot program that will give Eastie residents a unique opportunity to participate in a planning process with the major players in emergency  planning and contribute to the collective understanding of how communities can engage on this difficult topic.

“We understand that climate change isn’t anyone’s first priority. It’s just that a 15 foot storm flood above present sea level would pretty much flood half of the area with sea water and screw this town up.” said Marchi. “This is a trial and error situation.  And every step we take in the right direction is good.  Residents from the Maverick and Eagle Hill areas who did attend had excellent  suggestions and gave us useful ideas about improving evacuation route signage, planning for people on foot, and getting messages to both landlords and renters.”

Those who attended the meeting thought it was very informative.

“I thought the meeting went very well.”  said Madgalena Ayed, a Maverick resident and climate change activist in East Boston who also happens to be a Spanish language translator  and offered translation services for the meeting.  “The Maverick area residents in attendance were engaged in learning more about climate change adaptation and what they can do to prepare.  We had babysitters, food and beverages, and everything went smoothly,  so I think that people got a lot out of the meeting.”

Jack Wiggin, Professor at the University of Massachusetts who is involved with this process and presented a review of strategies at the meeting that could be used to offset  flooding said area flood maps indicate that a 10 foot flood height above present sea level could occur with a massive storm today, but it wouldn’t take that big a weather event in 50 years with expected sea level rise.

“Such flooding would seriously affect many parts  of East Boston,” he said at the meeting.

Organizers here are attempting to build inclusive processes to get residents from impacted areas involved and ensure a successful plan.

“We want to get representation from  every neighborhood at the upcoming planning workshops to be sure that emergency agencies are in sync with the neighborhood,” said Wiggin. “It’s a matter of including local knowledge.  Without someone who knows the area, including cultural and social factors such as the  ways people might react, how they use their buildings and the sort of obstacles they might face in things like weatherproofing work, or in preparing, understanding and reacting to emergency instructions, planners in city, state and federal agencies will be  left to make assumptions and make decisions for us.  And that might not work out.”

At the meeting Marchi said anything that can turn Orient Heights, Eagle Hill and Jeffries Point into islands again, block residents from getting prescriptions or going downtown by tunnel  or train for a month, knock out the power, supermarket, water and sanitation, is something we want to keep an eye on.

“Even if it’s a one in a hundred or five hundred chance, it’s worth thinking about,” said Marchi. “The chances of a big storm knocking us around are way  better than the chances of hitting the lottery.”

Marchi said to ensure more participation from Jeffries Point, Eagle Hill and Orient Heights, the group is pushing back the workshop dates and planning a couple of extra meetings at more  central locations.

Organizers are asking that residents who are interested in representing their neighborhoods in planning workshops to call Chris Marchi: at NOAH at 617-418-8241.  The workshops will be held in May and June at an East Boston location to be announced.  No special training or expertise is needed.

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