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New Strategies to Enhance Coastal Resilience in East Boston and Charlestown

With the completion of “Coastal Resilience Solutions for East Boston and Charlestown (Phase II),” the City has developed resilience plans for all 47-miles of Boston’s coastline.

Today, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Coastal Resilience Solutions for East Boston and Charlestown (Phase II), a comprehensive framework to understand coastal flood risk, options for coastal resilience solutions, and timelines for implementation in parts of East Boston and Charlestown’s coastlines. The study areas for Phase II specifically includes East Boston’s coastline along Chelsea Creek, Belle Isle Marsh, Orient Heights Railyard, Constitution Beach, and Wood Island Marsh; and Charlestown’s coastline along the Navy Yard, Little Mystic Channel, and Boston Autoport. The work builds on the first phase of the study in both neighborhoods that was released in 2017 and is part of a larger citywide effort to address climate change in Boston. The strategies in this report will guide the development of coastal flood protection, strengthen Boston’s work to become the greenest city in the country, and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors. With the completion of East Boston and Charlestown (Phase II), the City has developed coastal resilience plans for all 47-miles of Boston’s coastline.

“Climate adaptation presents an opportunity to create a resilient, climate-ready waterfront that advances priorities for open space, mobility, affordable housing, social and racial equity, and natural resource conservation,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “This report lays out a community-driven vision for Boston’s coastline to be resilient, accessible, and protected.” 

The plan evaluated coastal flood risk in the communities and identified flood protection strategies that effectively reduce flood risk. While other climate hazards, such as increased precipitation and extreme heat, were considered throughout the planning process, the plan focused specifically on how to respond to the effects of coastal flooding from sea-level rise and storm surge, while providing additional benefits for the community. The plan worked to identify strategies that preserve the essential functions and historic character of the East Boston and Charlestown waterfronts, while undoing the harm of historic planning that unjustly placed certain communities at risk of environmental hazards. 

Coastal Resilience Solutions for East Boston and Charlestown (Phase II) is a critical component of Climate Ready Boston, the City’s initiative to prepare for the near- and long-term effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, coastal storms, extreme precipitation, and extreme heat. The report is part of a series of coastal resilience planning efforts and outlines a set of infrastructure projects that, when implemented, will increase the protection of Boston’s waterfront from sea-level rise and coastal flooding. The consultant team supporting the project included Arcadis, Sasaki, Woods Hole Group, and ONE Architecture. The Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) was also on the team as a community partner. 

“East Boston and Charlestown are two of the most vulnerable neighborhoods to flooding and sea-level rise due to climate change,” said District 1 City Councilor Gabriela Coletta. “We have to act with urgency to fortify our waterfront and deploy nature-based solutions in order to protect the resiliency of our coastline and our people. The completion of this report provides a necessary climate adaptation framework that will keep our waterfront resilient, inclusive, and accessible for future generations. I also applaud Mayor Wu and her team for centering marginalized communities disproportionately affected by the negative impacts of climate change.”

“Building climate resilient communities requires an understanding of the deep impact climate change will have on our neighborhoods,” said District 6 City Councilor Kendra Lara, Chair of the Environmental Justice, Resiliency & Parks Committee. “This project assesses the immediate concerns brought to our attention by the Climate Ready Boston report and presents necessary long-term solutions. This is a bold step toward protecting residents of Boston and promoting environmental sustainability.”

Boston is already experiencing the effects of climate change. Projections within the report found that Boston’s sea level is likely to rise by 9 inches as soon as 2030 and 40 inches as soon as 2070 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace. Coastal flooding threatens places and services that are vital to East Boston and Charlestown’s community safety and wellbeing, including homes and businesses, evacuation routes, community centers, public parks, and natural areas. By taking a people-centered approach to coastal resilience, the City of Boston can prepare our residents and communities for sea level rise and flooding in a way that addresses systemic inequities to support a thriving, Green New Deal city. 

“As temperatures rise, Boston will experience significant changes to our coastline, including sea level rise, flooding, and more intense and frequent storms,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space. “Past decisions made by the public and private sector have led to increased risks for environmental justice communities. The City is committed to doing the work to support marginalized communities that are bearing a disproportionate burden of negative climate impacts.” 

Engagement with the East Boston and Charlestown communities was central to the development of this plan. Throughout the process, the City met with multiple City, State, and federal agencies, private and institutional stakeholders, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, residents, neighborhood associations, and the broader East Boston and Charlestown communities. Stakeholders helped shape the development of coastal resilience solutions that have multiple benefits for each community. The final report presents near- and long-term solutions for the Phase II study area, with proposed projects such as landscaped berms with opportunities for ecological restoration, elevating segments of the Harborwalk, and raising roadways to protect critical infrastructure.

"Residents in East Boston and Charlestown are impacted by many environmental stressors that can stem from sea level rise and coastal flooding,” said Magdalena Ayed, Founder & Executive Director of the Boston Harborkeepers. “I am grateful to Mayor Wu and the Climate Ready Boston team for taking steps to protect the community from the impacts of climate change." 

The critical actions laid out through this coastal plan reinforce the Wu administration’s commitment to supporting healthy communities and a thriving green economy. Previously, Mayor Wu proposed her administration’s first budget which includes groundbreaking investments in climate action to create a Green New Deal city. These investments, which further key strategies identified in the plan, include $2.5 million for a new Climate Ready Streets program within Climate Ready Boston to deliver on heat resilience, stormwater management, and air quality on key transportation corridors, $20 million for a nation-leading pilot for energy retrofits in triple deckers and other multi-family homes while maintaining affordability, $2.5 million of ARPA funds to grow and preserve our urban tree canopy, including an innovative pilot program on private land, $2.5 million in electrifying school bus infrastructure, a $6 million ARPA investment to scale Youth Green Jobs, and $137 million in capital funding, plus operating investments, to create and protect parks, the tree canopy, and open spaces in the city. 

To celebrate the release of the Phase II report, City staff and project team members will join the annual Constitution Beach Maritime Festival in East Boston today, which is hosted by The Harborkeepers in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and numerous local organizations. This will be an opportunity to share information about the planning process with the community. City staff and project team members will also attend the August 18th Charlestown Live Music at the Navy Yard (hosted by the National Park Service) from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

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