By John Lynds
Last year’s Climate Ready Boston’s report, the city’s comprehensive assessment of the climate change risks it will face in the coming decades, had 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.
Due to Eastie being at a greater risk of some type of catastrophic flooding episode, the city has focused on Eastie, and Charlestown across the harbor, as the two neighborhoods to focus on getting ‘climate ready’.
Kannan Thiruvengadam and Nasser Brahim have been making the rounds at community meetings trying to drum up support for Climate Ready East Boston’s kickoff and workshop on May 23 at Excel Academy, 401 Bremen St at 6 p.m.
Thiruvengadam and Brahim said Climate Ready Boston is the Mayor’s ongoing initiative to help the city grow and prosper in the face of climate change. Protecting Eastie from sea level rise and coastal flooding is a high priority.
“Through Climate Ready East Boston, we will better understand current and future flood risk in East Boston, and develop strategies to protect the neighborhood,” said Brahim. “Flooding solutions along the waterfront can make the community safer and provide other benefits to the community. We need your help to develop those solutions.”
Brahim added that residents can take the group’s community survey at https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/climate-ready-east-boston#community-survey ahead of the workshop.
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 city’s report. “The majority of the more than 88,000 Bostonians who will be exposed to late-century, one 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 under-appreciated, 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 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.”