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‘Walking into the lion’s den’: Cities and towns say they need help as climate change dangers grow

‘Walking into the lion’s den’: Cities and towns say they need help as climate change dangers grow

This Geocolor image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-16 satellite captures the deepening storm off the East coast of the United States on Jan. 4, 2018, at 16:22 UTC.  The powerful nor'easter was battering coastal areas with heavy snow and strong winds, from Florida to Maine.

Officials at Chelsea claim that the figure is approximately 2-square-mile city across the Mystic River from Boston is being hit by more frequent — and more damaging — flooding due to rising sea levels and stronger storms caused by climate change. A city report projects even more flooding in the future,, officials say they need more resources to protect Chelsea’s The future of humanity and the people who live it.

“What is troubling for us is that we don’t have an option to move inland. We don’t have an option to relocate residents,” Maltez said. “We’re saying that by 2070, half of our city is going to be at high flood risk.”

Maltez compares the predicted climate threat to be like “walking into the lion’s den” if Chelsea doesn’t prepare now. “We think about this every day.”

The concerns of the leaders of Chelsea are not unique. A survey of Massachusetts officialsCities and townsPublished November 2021 by The UMass Northeast Center for Coastal ResilienceIt was found that almost all respondents had seen climate change impacts in their own communities. Many, including Chelsea said that their communities have performed vulnerability and risk assessments.

This Geocolor image, taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), GOES-16 satellite, captures the storm that was brewing off the East coast United States on January 4, 2018, at 16 :22 UTC. The powerful nor’easter battered coastal areas with heavy snowfall and strong winds, from Florida through Maine. NOAA

Climate change is often described as a global phenomenon.Many of its effects can be seen in the following: Are local experts. More frequent flooding that damages homes and businesses. More severe storms that cause power outages. Extreme temperatures can make illnesses worse.

“The climate conversation has become much more local than it used to be,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based non-profit that promotes environmental and social justice. “They’re saying, ‘we’re experiencing unbelievable heat waves, and people are dying. We are experiencing more frequent flooding and property is being damaged.’ “

The Jan. 4, 2018, storm brought snow and ice together to form an icy torrent, flooding the PreFlight Boston airport parking garage at 111 Eastern Avenue in Chelsea. Kevin Welsh

Survey results revealed that there are many barriers that prevent cities and towns from addressing these issues, such as a lack in staffing, resources, or expertise to plan for climate impacts.

Marta Vicarelli, assistant professor in the Department of Economics and School of Public Policy, UMass Amherst said that researchers were pleasantly surprised by the wide range of responses they received, both from the 40 coastal and 71inland municipalities.

“They actually poured their hearts into these answers,” Vicarelli said. “The respondents know their stuff, and they know what they need.”

Officials from 73 percent of coastal communities reported that they were severely affected by severe storms, high-wind events, and other extreme weather. A majority of coastal communities also reported being heavily affected by storm surges and sea-level rise as well as flooding.

43 percent of inland communities stated that they were affected by severe thunderstorms and high-wind events. A third of the people surveyed were affected by flooding and heat waves.

The identities of the municipal officials who responded to UMass’ survey were not released. However, many comments expressed frustration, concerns about funding, or dire predictions for the future if climate change is not addressed immediately.

“[We are] trying to figure out what to armor, and when to retreat and how to pay for this,” said an official from a coastal town. “We know it is only a matter of time, as shorelines are washing away faster and faster. Right now property values are surging, because of our attractiveness, but one good storm, things will change.”

An official from a coastal city fretted over the slow pace of the community’s response: “Fear is preventing us from doing anything. Fear of a mass exodus. Fear of lawsuits.”

Warned another official from a coastal city: “The barriers are money and disbelief.”

When a storm strikes, municipal officials are often the first to respond. They’re also in the position to help identify a threat ahead of time.

“That’s where climate change shows up — in our neighborhoods. And it’s local governments that are on the ground dealing with the challenge,” said Geoff Beckwith, who leads the Massachusetts Municipal Association,which includes leaders from cities and towns.

However, some help is on the horizon.

Local efforts got a boost from the state’s Recent $4 billion COVID-19 Relief PackageBeckwith stated that the package included approximately $100 million primarily to support climate resilience through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program. Another $100 million was allocated to water and sewer projects. This is a large portion of the package that is climate-related due too much infrastructure.

Beckwith praised the relief funding as “an important first step,” but said more resources are needed to address climate change. He said that, in addition to infrastructure funding, cities and towns also need the resources to hire new staff to address climate change issues.

Officials from some of the communities that took part in the UMass survey informed the Globe that they are working to address climate change.

After it was damaged by flooding in August 2021 in Newton, the footbridge at Albemarle Road is being rebuilt. Officials from the city said that rising waters caused by climate change played a role in the destruction. Cameron Morsberger

Newton is Joined a group suburban communities to address climate related flooding eventsAccording to officials, they are becoming more common.

That kind of flooding was seen in August 2021, when Newton’s Cheesecake Brook Overflowed as Tropical Storm Fred’s remnants passed through the region. A vehicle caught in the floodwaters collided with a footbridge and destroyed structure, which the city is trying to replace.

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement afterward that communities “must act” to address flooding concerns.

Scituate residents and leaders have seen their town experience more severe weather, according Town Administrator James Boudreau. Climate resilience is a priority.

Every time there is a nor’easter, Scituate “gets it right on the chin,” Boudreau said. “The storms seem to be greater ferocity, the damage seems to be higher than it seemed in the past. So it’s right at the top of our list.”

During a bomb storm that struck the region Jan. 4, 2018, waves crashed against homes along Turner Road, Scituate.Craig Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The town is currently constructing new seawalls at Cedar Point and Oceanside Drive. Boudreau says that even if Scituate were to receive competitive federal or state grants, it would still need to pay $8 million to $9million to fund the two projects together.

The town must balance those issues with other responsibilities — such as supporting local schools and public safety, he said. “Add to that the cost of climate resiliency, and it gets challenging,” Boudreau said.

Local officials in Chelsea are working against the clock.

About half of the city will be at risk from coastal flooding by 2070 as sea levels rise 3 feet. According to a 2017 report by the city and the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.

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Chelsea’s low-lying areas are, on average, less than 10 feet above sea level. The city is also bordered by the Mystic River and the Island End River, making them particularly vulnerable to flooding.

On Monday, January 3, 2022, a portion of the dock at Chelsea’s Mary O’Malley State Park got submerged by the Mystic river. Officials in Chelsea and community advocates warn that climate change-induced flooding could threaten the city. Roseann Bongiovanni

Without sufficient protection, the human cost from increased coastal flooding would be unimaginable if many residents were driven from their homes, said Alexander Train, the city’s director of housing and community development.

Train stated that the city, which has approximately 41,000 inhabitants, has a large immigrant community. Many people don’t have the financial resources to deal with such a crisis.

The flood areas also include the New England Produce Center near the Everett line, which helps supply the region’s grocery stores. Storage facilities for fuel are located along Chelsea’s eastern shore.

The 2018 stormLocals saw it as a sign of the future. The hardest hit areas from flooding were Marginal Street and the homes close to Marginal and Willow streets, according to Maltez, Chelsea’s public works director.

Roseann Bongiovanni (executive director of GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based environmental group), in her Chelsea Office. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Bongiovanni, who has a GreenRoots office on Marginal Street, stated that she saw firsthand how homes and businesses were flooded during the 2018 storm.

“Environmental justice communities must be prioritized for climate investments. Low-income communities and communities of color have borne the burden of disproportionate toxic pollution for decades,” she said. “These same communities cannot and should not shoulder the burden of significant climate impacts as well.”

The city’s fire chief, Leonard Albanese, said severe weather events are more damaging and prevalent than they were in the past.

“There is no doubt that climate change is affecting the intensity and severity of these storms,” Albanese said.

Officials said that the Chelsea community is taking steps to safeguard itself against increasingly severe weather. The Barr Foundation has provided assistance to the city to provide two staff members to work on climate issues. The city also is developing physical infrastructure to better protect against coastal flooding, and strengthening relationships between the city and residents so officials can better respond to residents’ concerns.

The city also participates in efforts like the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, and has worked with lawmakers — including US Representative Ayanna Pressley — Project to protect Chelsea and Everett against coastal flooding.

Ultimately, local leaders believe the resiliency of Chelsea’s residents and community “is on us,” Maltez said.

“If we do nothing,” he said, “what occurred on Jan. 4, 2018, is going to happen several times a year.”


John Hilliard is available at john.hilliard@globe.com.

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