Many Homeowners Unaware of Living in Flood Zones

According to a study conducted by NOAH’s Community Building and Environment Department only 10 percent of East Bostonians living in revised flood zones are aware they are at risk of flood damage from a superstorm or future sea level rise.

Last Thursday, NOAH’s held another in a series of meetings as part of its Climate Adaptation Workshop at the East Boston Branch Library, in the Menino Community Room. The meetings are geared towards getting residents here to start thinking seriously about climate change and sea level rise and what we should be doing to prepare.

The workshops were developed at NOAH’s Community Building and Environment Department to produce in-depth discussions within community and agency groups and cross sector conversations between community and agencies. The meeting format and processes were specifically designed to create participation from people in urban environmental justice communities.

Resident delegates were chosen to represent all neighborhoods in Eastie by NOAH’s Chris Marchi director of Community Building and Environment, Manlio Mendez, community organizer and Magdalena Ayed, lead volunteer and project organizer.

“The process grouped each neighborhood’s resident delegates together so they could support each other in technical, but important discussions,” said Marchi. “Experienced and well qualified community consultants were provided for each of the three neighborhood groups, to offer technical and strategic advice and support if needed throughout the event.”

The night started with a short presentation by Professor Paul Kirshen, of the University of New Hampshire, who together with Professors Jack Wiggin of UMass and Ellen Douglas of Tufts are conducting research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on sea level rise impacts on communities like Eastie. Professor Kirshen showed color flood inundation maps which showed which areas would be impacted by flood waters if Boston experienced a 10 foot storm surge. Since New York had a 12.5 foot storm surge in October of 2012, this scenario had direct regional relevance.

Kirshen said the time is now for residents to plan with agencies and scientists concerning climate change, storm surge, local flood risks and planning responses. Kirshen said things like building a seawall only three feet high could have a major impact on protecting Eastie from storm surge.

“This is a wall that can be engineered so layers are added as they are needed,” said Kirshen. “This would make the initial cost of protecting infrastructure and homes very low. But it is important to note the cost of damage from a Sandy-like storm would be far greater.”

There were also some ideas of linking the harbor islands with a series of ocean locks and levees that would allow for marine traffic to pass through but protect the inner harbor from storm surge threats.

“We need to start thinking outside the box on this stuff because the time is now to act,” said Kirshen.

The workshops are part an effort that is underway as 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 and getting messages to both landlords and renters.”

The community resident delegates are asked to consider the impacts from a superstorm as if they were ‘sitting at their kitchen tables’ and offer their true expertise –knowledge of themselves, their families, their neighbors and their community perspectives and to consider the things that they most want to protect in their communities.

The next Workshop is tentatively planned for March 25 also at the library at 5:30 p.m.

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