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Menino's Dream, Boston's Seaport Threatened By Climate Change!

Can an eleven billion dollar proposed seawall save Seaport and 100's of communities?

During Mayor of Boston Menino's tenure the area known as Seaport was thought to be a good investment for high end potential for commercial space and living. City officials saw it that way, too, especially after local, state, and federal agencies spent billions of dollars cleaning up the adjacent Boston Harbor. Within a few years, then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino began promoting the area as the city’s “Innovation District.”

In an article by David Abel int Boston University's The Brink publication it is noted, "The city and state spent billions of additional dollars creating the foundation of a new neighborhood, which today has been branded as the Seaport. They succeeded in attracting developers, cultural institutions, and Fortune 500 companies, including Amazon, Fidelity Investments, General Electric, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. As the neighborhood began to take shape in earnest about a decade ago, scientists at the University of Massachusetts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others, began issuing report after report about the potential dangers of rising seas. Sea levels are now nearly a foot higher than they were a century ago."

Boston Harbor floods the Seaport and other areas of the city about a dozen times a year, up from two or three times a year in the 70's! If we don’t stop fossil fuel emissions soon, Boston Harbor could rise seven to ten feet by 2070. In the worst-case scenarios—if the glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland collapse—we could be looking at as much as 25 feet of sea rise by the end of the century and an incomprehensible 60-100 feet by 2150!

In Boston, we experience the effects of climate change on a daily basis. Rising sea levels, hotter days, and stronger storms pose a threat to our communities, open spaces, infrastructure, and buildings. The City of Boston needs to take action to build resilient solutions to ensure that Boston continues to thrive for generations to come.

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to sustainable infrastructure. A new report assessing a proposed sea barrier in Boston Harbor estimates the structure could cost more than $11 billion. The city-commissioned study also found that investing in smaller, shore-based resilience projects is more feasible and effective than a megaproject that could take 30 years to permit and construct.

Released by the University of Massachusetts Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab on May 29,2023 the report says Boston could sustain billions of dollars of storm-related damage by the time the wall would be completed. It says the city should focus on projects outlined in the recent Climate Ready Boston initiative, including an up to $3-million effort to elevate streets in Charlestown and a $100,000 deployable flood barrier on East Boston’s Greenway.

When former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh took the stage at a 2017 ribbon-cutting in the Seaport District, he spoke with pride of a neighborhood “hitting its stride.” He spoke of new retail, housing, entertainment venues, and green space. He spoke of job creation and “smart growth.” He spoke of an area that represents “our future economy here in Boston.” Will it all come crashing down?

Over the past two decades, the city, state and federal governments have invested billions of dollars developing a new gleaming financial hub above what was once mudflats and salt marshes, without much planning for sea-level rise. Now, the Seaport is one of the most vulnerable waterfront areas in Boston.

By the 2030s, sea levels around Boston are projected to rise 9 inches above what they were in 2013. When that happens, a single nor’easter could potentially cause $1.2 billion worth of damage in South Boston, where the Seaport sits at the head of a number of major flood pathways.

Paul Kirshen, professor of climate adaptation at the University of Massachusetts Boston and director of the Stone Living Lab, said city officials could have done a much better job planning for sea-level rise. Even though the sea-level projections did improve substantially in 2016, climate change has been a known threat since at least the 1980s and officials should have assumed predictions would increase over time.

“[The Seaport] could have been a shining example of how to do it right, but it became a shining example of how to do it wrong,” Kirshen said. Current Mayor Michelle Wu while she was on the City Council, put it even more bluntly: “The Seaport is one of the starkest examples of what’s wrong with our development system overall.”


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