Councilors Hear Public Testimony During Last Week’s Flood Hearing

With back to back to back Nor’easters this winter causing moderate to significant flooding along East Boston’s waterfront, the Boston City Council convened a hearing last Tuesday afternoon to hear from city officials, experts and the public on what steps the city is taking, or should be taking, to combat sea level rise.

While experts and the public put forth numerous ideas and suggestions on how to move forward to protect our shoreline from flooding during major storms the main obstacle is funding.

As we need multiple layers of protection against sea level rise we need multiple layers of funding from public and private sources if we a serious of becoming climate ready as a city.

Like the rising sea levels the cost of protecting the city is also something we can’t ignore or get away from.

Some at last week’s hearing suggested with all the new development going on a policy, similar to the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) inclusionary policy might be something the city should consider. The BPDA’s inclusionary policy requires developers to build a certain percentage of affordable housing as part of a proposed development over a certain amount of units. Developers can opt out by paying into a city fund so the city can build affordable housing units elsewhere in the city.

So maybe, some suggested at last week’s hearing, that developers pay into a similar fund so the city can begin aggressively funding sea level rise flood protection projects.

Other suggestions included tacking a surcharge on property tax much like the recent Community Preservation Act surcharge that helps the city fund affordable housing, historic preservation and greenspace projects throughout Beantown. Another suggestion was to have a climate preparedness fee on Boston Water and Sewer bills.

While raising fees is always an unpopular recommendation others said some of the costs associated with flood prevention projects could be offset by large multimillion dollar intuitions that receive tax breaks from the city and participate¬† in what’s called the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program. Some suggested perhaps its time these institutions start paying a little more to protect the city from rising waters.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards asked several questions to city officials and experts during the hearing and wanted to know what, budget wise, is needed to make a difference as well as how to get more community members active in sea level rise planning.

Alison Brizius, the head of the city’s Climate and Environmental Planning Department, said there are numerous efforts underway to address climate change. The city’s Climate Ready report identified Eastie and Charlestown as two neighborhoods most in need of immediate flood prevention help.

This resulted in the city’s plans to purchase a deployable flood wall that can block current flood pathways into the neighborhood, said Brizius.

Other steps the city has taken to make Eastie more ‘climate ready’ is working with the developers of Suffolk Downs to elevate its entire site 40 inches to prevent against both storm water and future sea level rise.

The city is also looking at the storms that affected Eastie this past winter and mapping where the flooding was most prevalent, how high the flood waters got and how many residents were affected in order to create plans to prevent future storm flooding.

Both Amber Kristofferson of the Mystic River Watershed Association and Magdalena Ayed of the East Boston Harborkeepers both said they worried about the environmental risk of flooding in Eastie.

With a lot of industrial uses on Eastie’s waterfront as well as the Chelsea Creek flooding can cause environmental risks as toxins spill in to the water during a flood event.

Aside from the environmental risk, Ayed testified that her concern is the geographic isolation of Eastie.

“We are surrounded by water on all sides,” said Ayed. “A major flood event will impede mobility and leave people stranded. If we are caught in a Hurricane Sandy or Harvey-type storm people will perish and people will be stranded. So we need to start talking longterm planning and increasing budgets.”

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