Boston is currently one of only three coastal municipalities in the Commonwealth without a local wetlands protection ordinance for places like Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston.
With 209 wetlands distributed throughout just about every neighborhood in the city, Councilors Michelle Wu and Matt O’Malley, working with local advocacy groups like The Harborkeepers in Eastie, re-filed an ordinance at Wednesday’s City Council meeting aimed at strengthening the city’s ability to fight climate change and reasonably regulate development.
The Local Wetlands Protection Ordinance would empower the Boston Conservation Commission to require green infrastructure with new development, including protections for urban wetlands, which are an important natural resource to manage flooding and reduce urban heat island effect.
“Boston must take bolder, faster, more proactive steps to mitigate and manage our vulnerability to changing weather and intensifying storms,” said Wu. “Nearly every other coastal municipality in Massachusetts has already gone beyond the state baselines for protecting urban wetlands and natural resources, and we must do the same. These land resources are too valuable to lose to development–they’re important not just for conservation, but to guard against severe flooding and heat that disproportionately harm our most vulnerable residents and communities. This is an issue of social and environmental justice.”
The legislation comes out of an initial hearing sponsored by Wu and chaired by O’Malley back in August.
At last week’s City Council hearing, O’Malley said that 70 percent of greenhouse gases come from buildings and with the city in the midst of a development boom more has to be done to protect Boston’s natural resources.
“It is imperative to codify preservation efforts for local wetlands in the City of Boston as a coastal municipality. As we address the impacts of global climate change, we must explore measures to ensure our urban environment landscape is preserved,” said O’Malley, who is Chairman of the Environment, Sustainability and Parks Committee. “The ordinance will further the protections of wetlands, as well as the plants and wildlife that grow in them.”
The Harborkeepers Executive Director Magdalena Ayed said this proposed wetlands protection ordinance could be a key tool for mitigating climate change impacts and preserving critical wetland areas like the Belle Isle Marsh.
“The Belle Isle Marsh, the last remaining salt marsh in Metro Boston, suffered serious storm impacts in 2018 that were a warning sign of the need to protect these vital coastal resources that in turn not only protect the people and neighborhoods of Boston but also preserve critical animal and plant habitats that are being wiped out all over the world,” said Ayed. “Establishing the City of Boston LWO is really a moot point. It has to get done.”
Deanna Moran, director of Environmental Planning for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the ordinance is a, “Great first step to addressing climate impacts in the City of Boston and CLF looks forward to ensuring that this measure complements the Mayor’s Resilient Harbor Plan”. Former Chair of the City of Boston Conservation Commission Joe Orfant said wetlands like Belle Isle and their protection along with flood protection are the front line of climate change action in Boston.
“The Commission and its critical wetland concerns and authority must be integrated into the front end of project development in concert with other municipal overviews and not relegated to an afterthought,” said Orfant. “A local wetlands protection ordinance must and can see that this happens as part of a comprehensive response to climate change. We need to better use the tools at hand.”
This proposed ordinance was assigned to the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations for a hearing and next steps at last week’s Council meeting. Winthrop does have regulations regarding the marsh but no ordinances. Revere works off the ordinances on the Department of Environmental Protection and local ordinances.