Is Eastie Ready for Sea Level Rise? New Report Exposes How Vulnerable We Are

By John Lynds

Part of NOAH"s  Community Building and Environment Department Youth Crew, Stephen Marin and Michael Passariello during a meeting discussing climate change.

Part of NOAH”s  Community Building and Environment Department Youth Crew, Stephen Marin and Michael Passariello during a meeting discussing climate change.

Climate Ready Boston’s report, the city’s comprehensive assessment of the climate change risks it will face in the coming decades, was released last week with some unsettling news for East Boston.

According to the report, Eastie has the most land area of all Boston neighborhoods exposed to coastal storms in the coming decades, with exposure concentrated near the Greenway, Maverick Square, and the Sumner and Callahan Tunnels.

“Nearly 50 percent of East Boston’s land area will be exposed to coastal flooding at the one percent annual chance (storm) event as soon as the 2070s,” read the report.

The report found that between 2030 and 2050, coastal and riverine flood exposure will be concentrated mainly in Eastie, South Boston, Charlestown, and Downtown and represents a significant threat to these neighborhoods and the rest of the city.

What is worse is that a significant storm, like Sandy that happened in 2011, could be devastating for Eastie and its residents.

“East Boston, for example, has high concentrations of medical illness but no hospitals,” read the report. “If the tunnels and bridges became inaccessible in a flood event, those in need of acute medical care could be less able to access it; access to much-needed medications has historically been an issue in large coastal flood events. The daily stresses socially vulnerable residents face can also make recovery and adaptation more difficult.

The report said that as soon as the 2070s, almost five percent of Boston’s land area is expected to face exposure to inundation from the average monthly high tide. Eastie and South Boston have the most land area affected by coastal flooding and sea level rise.

“Toward the end of this century, 75 percent of buildings exposed will be either residential or mixed-use, potentially exposing over 88,000 people (nearly 15 percent of Boston’s population) to coastal and riverine flooding,” read the report. “The majority of the more than 88,000 Bostonians who will be exposed to late-century 1 percent annual chance coastal storms and sea level rise impacts reside in four neighborhoods: East Boston, Downtown, South Boston, and the South End.”

The report found that coastal flooding is particularly disruptive and dangerous for those living in chronically stressed neighborhoods, without resources or education for disaster preparedness and recovery.

“Coastal flooding will have a significant near-term impact on socially vulnerable populations living in waterfront areas like East Boston,” read the report. “Moreover, with 36 inches of sea level rise, a major coastal storm will impact even inland neighborhoods. This is a concern because of the multiple layers of vulnerability that these neighborhoods are already facing. The risk of major storms is very difficult for members of the population to conceptualize if they have not experienced one in their lifetime. As such, risk may be underappreciated, and residents may fail to prepare adequately or evacuate on time.”

In communities with lower levels of education and income like Eastie, people may simply lack the resources to adequately prepare for disaster the report found.

Of the number of structures that could be affected by a major storm, more than 10 percent of Boston’s existing buildings will be exposed to late-century flooding.

“Of exposed buildings late century, the majority–almost 80 percent–are concentrated in the four neighborhoods of the South End, East Boston, South Boston, and Downtown, in that order,” read the report.

The report also found that key components of Boston’s transportation system, most notably MBTA T service and evacuation routes, may be at risk to coastal and riverine flood impacts in the near future.

“Many residents depend on Boston’s public transit system to get to work, school, or health care, and this system is one of the first to face exposure to coastal flooding,” read the report. “MBTA stations face exposure to sea level rise impacts from lower probability events in the near term. This includes four Blue Line stations that connect East Boston to Downtown. With increasing sea level rise, almost a third of MBTA T stations face exposure as soon as the 2070s. Any MBTA Blue Line station closures could restrict travel between East Boston, Downtown. Alternative transportation options may be especially difficult for East Boston and Charlestown residents to take advantage of, as these areas are physically separated from other Boston neighborhoods. Major roads and evacuation routes, as well as Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T) facilities, are expected to face significant sea level rise impacts, and bus transit can expect to be interrupted in the case of flooded roadways or tunnels.”

Ahead of the release of the City of Boston’s Climate Ready report, NOAH’s (Neighborhood of Affordable Housing) Director of Community Building and Environment Department Chris Marchi was at a recent Gove Street Citizens Association meeting to show residents simple steps of how to prepare for climate change through their ClimateCARE program.

“The cities environment department has done a tremendous amount of work, and it shows. The climate ready Boston plan is a solid, comprehensive first step in preparing Boston and it’s neighborhoods for climate change,” said Marchi. “Most notable, is how the city has engaged with us here in East Boston. They have partnered with the ClimateCARE program and are working closely with our community-based project. The city’s people have been great partners and very supportive of East Boston’s work to create progress on climate preparedness in our neighborhoods. We look forward to working closely with the city on next steps.”

For his part Mayor Martin Walsh said the study released identifies nine locations in Boston most at risk from coastal flooding due to sea level rise. He said in these spots, solutions are needed to protect residents, infrastructure, and the built environment from the growing risk of floods in the coming decades.

“The City of Boston was recently awarded a grant from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management to design nature-based coastal resiliency strategies for two priority sites in East Boston and north Charlestown,” said Walsh. “These sites were selected because they are currently at risk for flooding, which will only increase in the future. They both are also relatively narrow, and a specific flood protection solution could effectively be employed at these flood pathway entrances. These solutions will provide a template for how the City looks at additional at-risk areas.”

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