Boston Looks to Shore Up Its Harbor Against Flooding in 2019

Boston Harbor, Boston

Boston Harbor, Boston


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The city wants a $10 million federal grant to make its coastline more resilient ahead of disasters.

Boston has applied for a $10 million federal grant as part of a larger plan to combat sea-level rise and extreme weather along its harbor, Mayor Marty Walsh announced Tuesday.

The city and Boston Planning and Development Agency recently submitted a proposal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin resilience work along the Fort Point Channel, the latest in a series of district-level projects preparing 47 miles of shoreline for major flooding events.

Collectively the projects are known as Resilient Boston Harbor and have seen a flood wall deployed along the East Boston Greenway, a section of Main Street in Charlestown elevated, and ongoing coastal and stormwater planning for Moakley Park in South Boston.

Outside of Fort Point Channel, Boston has other resilience projects planned for 2018 in its Downtown, North End and Dorchester neighborhoods.

Boston has one of the most vulnerable shorelines on the East Coast with its sea-level projected to rise 1.5 feet above 1992 levels by 2050, according to William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Should sea level increase two feet it would triple the frequency of coastal flooding, and that’s without factoring in more severe weather events due to climate change.

"Massachusetts residents are already feeling the impacts of climate change, from hotter summers to increased coastal flooding and heavier rainfall,” said Rebecca Herst, executive director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston, in a statement. “Our research has shown that to address these challenges and protect vulnerable communities, we need partnership among local, regional and state government.”

Walsh proposed a package of six environmental and transportation bills Tuesday, including the Act to Establish a Commission for a Climate Ready Commonwealth.

If passed, the legislation would create a regional commission determining which agency leads major coastal and resiliency projects, in addition to funding and prioritizing them.

"Addressing the threat of climate change ... goes beyond city limits,” Walsh said in a statement. “That's why we must work together with the Massachusetts Legislature on issues of climate mitigation and adaptation.”

Last year Congress approved $235.2 million that state, tribal, territorial and local governments could apply for to reduce hazards to residents and buildings, as well as future reliance on federal funding during disasters. Governments have until Jan. 31 to apply for the pre-disaster mitigation grants.

FEMA this year also included a resilient infrastructure competitive program with a maximum eligibility of $10 million.

“This priority will provide the opportunity to advance capital projects on a community level, ready for investment, that will reduce risks, prevent loss of life and lead to significant savings by reducing damage from future disasters and lowering flood insurance premiums,” according to the agency’s fact sheet.

FEMA’s regional office in Boston did not respond to questions concerning the status of the city’s new pre-disaster mitigation grant application, possibly due to federal furloughs.

A FEMA spokesperson said the agency in general is operational, noting that emergency work, public infrastructure and mitigation projects “will not be impacted if the shutdown continues throughout this week.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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