Another Storm and More Flooding

A volunteer with Boston Climate Action Network kayaks near the East Boston waterfront during Friday’s Nor’Easter. BCAN was out in the storm to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on waterfront neighborhoods like Eastie and to urge the city to expedite climate action.

Two ‘once in a lifetime’ storms have hit East Boston and the surrounding coastal communities so far this year.

Like the Bomb Cyclone that hit the region in January,  the latest storm, a Nor’easter that began Friday and lasted through three high tide cycles, caused a storm surge that pushed ocean water from the Boston Harbor into the neighborhood.

Lewis Mall, LoPresti Park, Liberty Plaza, Pier One, Clippership Wharf and neighborhood streets close to the ocean like Coleridge Street near Constitution Beach experienced some level of significant flooding during the high tide cycles on Friday and Saturday.

While the storm and subsequent storm surge flooding did not cause widespread damage like it did in Scituate or some North Shore communities, it was a major inconvenience for residents as water blocked waterfront streets and flooded cars.

“These storms are following the predicted patterns of increasing intensity, more frequency and of a  more damaging nature,” said East Boston’s Neighborhood of Affordable Housing Executive Director Phil Giffee. NOAH runs the neighborhood’s ClimateCARE department that works on sea level rise, climate resiliency and storm water issues. “I was on the Portside/Lewis St. Mall at 7:30 a.m. Friday and the tide was normal. I returned at 11:20 a.m. and the water was up Lewis St., down Marginal and flowing towards the Greenway, If high tide had been in the 16 ft. range, it would have continued to march towards Maverick Station. It’s only a matter of time now before the Blue Line is breached as it was at Aquarium.”

Giffee said there are several things NOAH is calling for in order to protect Eastie from projected sea level rise.

“The city and state need to make plans to flood proof the six or seven flood prone paths into East Boston,” said Giffee. “NOAH is running a community-wide Charrette on May 19 as a follow up to our earlier Climate Summit. Neighbors can work hand in hand with professionals to learn about what kind of useful, green barriers can be designed for the public and private properties. We will have to work together on zoning and other ordinances for the public to be protected. Then solutions need to be prioritized and budgeted in capital plans. East Boston is threatened more than other Boston neighborhoods. Yes, it will take time but we can not wait. The Lewis Street Mall is an absolute necessity for a barrier as we have seen it flood twice now since the new year.”

Giffee added that the federal, state and city governments need to Increase spending on climate planning and resource allocation now more than ever.

“City and State budgets are strapped – they always are,” said Giffee. “While our leaders are not ignoring or unsympathetic to these challenges there is repeated first-hand evidence of the damages which will continue to occur due to climate change. We really cannot ignore our responsibility to create a different, safer, economically secure future. The public will have to push for more spending on climate protections and our leaders will have to ask for more spending authority. If not, we will all limp along telling our children of all the bad stories we experienced, or could have avoided if we acted responsibly and with haste. It’s time. Keep talking, Keep doing. Keep working together. But remember, plans are great but budgets are better.”

Local environmental activist Kannan Thiruvengadam, who works with NOAH on climate change issues through the Boston Climate Action Network took part in a ‘Rising Sea Rally’ Friday at Lewis Street Mall to call attention to the future we will face in Eastie if action is not taken now.

Thiruvengadam and others from the group held signs and even kayaked around Eastie side streets as ocean water spilled over into the neighborhood.

“Things don’t seem bad now in East Boston,  but these storms indicate that we are close to a tipping point,” said Thiruvengadam. “Sea level continues to rise, and storms are becoming more frequent and more intense due to warming oceans, so we won’t continue to be lucky. People are unprepared. Should things get worse — which they will — vulnerable folks such as the elderly and those right on the water do not know what to do ahead of time to prevent or reduce damage, or whom to contact during the event. Sufficient systems have not been established for neighbors to check on each other. Nobody seems to know what our emergency evacuation plan is. The Umana Barns is an emergency shelter according to the current city plan, although the Umana Barnes itself is in the floodplain and flooded Friday. This is an indication of lack of proactive communication.”

Thiruvengadam said federal, state and city officials should be taking preparation ‘super-seriously’.

“They should be communicating emergency preparation plans to residents and even distributing emergency kits to residents,” he said. “Schools should do this as a routine at all grade levels. Adaptation measures–such as deployable flood-walls–should be committed as well to protect some of the neighborhood’s vulnerable water entry points. As the sea is likely to keep rising, all levels of government should move mitigation measures to a high priority. Energy efficiency, energy conservation, and transition to renewable energy should be considered as critical as safety is in schools because not doing so is tantamount to deciding to ruin our own lives, and even more so the lives of our children.”

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