During his speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last week, Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled his vision to invest in Boston’s waterfront to protect neighborhhoods like East Boston and its residents, homes, jobs, and infrastructure against the impacts of rising sea levels and climate change.
During his speech Walsh said he would rather spend $160 million today through his new initiative, “Resilient Boston Harbor,” by building sea walls and natural barriers to make Eastie more resilient to flooding in order to prevent $450 million in damages in the future.
During last winters two Nor’easters, the Boston Harbor had risen over the neighborhood’s longstanding sea walls and flooded waterfront development like Portside at Pier One along Eastie’s shores. The flood waters also flowed into Liberty Plaza, the Mario Umana Academy and stormwater filled the East Boston Greenway.
“Climate change is something that impacts everything we do in our city: all of our plans and policies, every sector of our economy, safety and quality of life in all our neighborhoods,” said Walsh. “We must do all that we can to prevent climate change and prepare for its impact. We’re not just planning for the next storm we will face – we’re planning for storms the next generation will face.”
Walsh’s Resilient Boston Harbor uses the City’s Climate Ready Boston 2070 flood maps and coastal resilience neighborhood studies to focus on Boston’s most vulnerable flood pathways.
The strategies laid out in the plan include elevated landscapes, enhanced waterfront parks, flood resilient buildings, and revitalized and increased connections and access to the waterfront.
Based on early recommendations from the Climate Ready Eastie plan a deployable floodwall system has already been installed across the East Boston Greenway to prevent flooding.
Building upon this first step Walsh announced last week the city plans to redesign Constitution Beach to combine flood protection measures with expanded access and recreation.
The city will also enhance Wood Island and Belle Isle to prevent the loss of the last remaining tidal salt marsh in Boston, while buffering the shoreline from increased waves and storm surges during storms.
Creating raised natural berms that act as additional public open along the waterfront as well as restoring salt marshes provide not only new natural resources but also buffer the shore from waves and storm surges.
Walsh will also direct city agencies to work with new development projects, including Suffolk Downs, to integrate resiliency measures, increased open space, and community connections.
Another plan for Eastie is to elevate transportation corridors like Bennington Street and the East Boston Greenway to create both flood protection and pedestrian connections throughout the neighborhood.
“This is a moment they’ll look back and judge us by,” said Walsh. “We must be prepared. This plan is more than just protecting Boston’s Waterfront. It’s a plan to protect our people; protect their homes and their jobs; protect businesses large and small; protect schools, parks, and roads, senior centers and daycare facilities. It’s also a plan to connect our people—to open space, to Boston Harbor, to opportunity. It’s a vision of environmental, economic, and social resilience.”
For years now groups like the East Boston Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) ClimateCARE (Community Action for Resilience Engagement) have been working with the city and other stakeholders to address Eastie’s vulnerability to storm surge and sea level rise. NOAH has held numerous workshops and planning meetings to begin to think outside the box when it comes to protecting the neighborhood with ideas ranging from elevated parks or berms along the shoreline to deployable floodwalls.
“I’m glad the Mayor is showing leadership on this critical issue that is so vital to the future of East Boston,” said NOAH’s Executive Director Phil Giffee. “He’s right to point out that sea level protection projects can be both attractive and useful, but also that these will be expensive and necessary. NOAH will continue to work closely with our neighborhood and his administration so that measures taken will meet community needs – and be budgeted in a timely fashion. It’s a great start.”
Walsh said his plan is not just a comprehensive strategy to protect the city from climate change flooding, but a transformative vision that will add 67 acres of green space to Boston’s 47-mile shoreline.
However, these strategies come at a huge cost.
In his speech Walsh said projects outlined in Resilient Boston Harbor for Eastie and elsewhere in the city will require a number of different funding sources. Walsh said that the City of Boston will commit 10 percent of all new capital funding to resilience projects. He called on Boston’s state and federal government partners, as well as the private sector and non-profit and philanthropic stakeholders to join the City in committing to make these necessary investments a reality.
“I applaud Mayor Walsh for his continued efforts to make Boston resilient for future generations,” said State Rep. Adrian Madaro. “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our City and our planet. The plan announced today will not only protect Boston’s waterfront neighborhoods, but will also improve the quality of life for our residents.”
A shot of Portside at Pier One during last winter’s Nor’easter where floodwaters from the Boston Harbor overwhelmed Eastie’s shoreline. Mayor Walsh hopes to spend millions in Eastie and across the city to protect neighborhood’s around the Harbor.