Boston Mayor Marty Walsh presented a wide-ranging proposal to brace the city for rising sea levels and coastal flooding due to climate change. Walsh unveiled the plan this morning at a meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. WGBH Radio’s Craig LeMoult was there and spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the presentation. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: It's my understanding the mayor is responding to the kind of damage that happened in New York during Hurricane Sandy, New Orleans during Katrina, and he wants to make sure that Boston gets out ahead of future storms like that. What does he plan to do?
Craig LeMoult: The plan includes building up waterfront parks and elevating roads along the city's 47-mile shoreline to serve as buffers for storm surges. Here he is describing his plan this morning to the Chamber of Commerce:
Sound from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh: It’s a system not of barricades, but of beaches and parks and trails and open space that are elevated to block floods and enhance and unlock opportunity.
LeMoult: The plan actually calls for 67 acres of new open space. Some of the things in the plan are short term projects, other things are going to take a little bit longer to get done, actually years to get done. They're trying to target spots that are really the problem areas, the sources of the worst flooding. For example, the flood maps show water coming in from Fort Point Channel could meet water coming in from South Boston's Moakley Park and really just do a ton of flooding there, so they want to do things like build up Moakley Park — create berms that stop flooding and actually protect the three public housing complexes that are right there next to that park. They're also trying to design a park along Fort Point Channel that could protect homes and businesses in that area. In Dorchester, they want to redesign Morrissey Boulevard, which already floods on a somewhat regular basis. In East Boston, they want to redesign Constitution Beach to focus on flood protection. They're going to elevate Main Street in Charlestown, redesign several North End parks, and in downtown Boston, they want to elevate sections of the Harborwalk. All of this is really aimed at trying to stop water from flooding into the city.
Howard: Well you know there had been earlier talk of building some sort of a harbor-wide barrier wall. Is that included?
LeMoult: That is not in this plan at all. This was the subject of a UMass-Boston study that determined it was just crazy expensive and really not that effective. So instead they chose to focus on these steps to build up resiliency along the waterfront.
Howard: The proposal that the mayor is putting up can't be inexpensive. How much would it cost?
LeMoult: Mayor Walsh says it’s not quite clear yet what the price tag is going to be since the plans are going to evolve over time with community input. And it's going to take years to get this done, and the costs will go up over that time. So it's hard to say, but he says paying for it now, investing in it now, will save money later. For example, he says that in South Boston, a billion dollar investment now can save us $19 billion in future damage.
Howard: Where would that money come from?
LeMoult: He's pledging to devote 10 percent of the city's capital budget to go towards resiliency projects going forward. He's also hoping to get some support from the state, as well as nonprofits and philanthropies. The city is also applying for a $10 million FEMA grant right now, but Walsh said he's not really expecting that much help from Washington, given President Trump's history of calling climate change a hoax. He's also going to need a lot of support from the private sector, and I think that's really why he was at the meeting this morning. He appealed directly to the business leaders at this morning's meeting. Here's what he said:
Sound from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh: We can and we must fund and build a solution together. The climate work that we've done and the plan that I share today protect your property, protect your workforce, protect your investments, and we need your leadership to make it a reality.
Howard: Did the Chamber of Commerce get behind this? What was the reaction this morning?
LeMoult: After the speech, he got a standing ovation, and Walsh actually said afterwards that someone told him a decade ago a speech on the environment would not have gotten that kind of reaction from this crowd. I spoke with David Begelfer, who is the CEO of NAIOP, which is a commercial real estate development agency. Their members are major real estate developers and owners in the city, and he says he thinks they will be on board with helping to fund this kind of work. But he said they can't do it alone. He used the Greenway as an example of a collaborative arrangement where the city, the state, and the property owners all went in on this together:
Sound from David Begelfer:Where the benefits are across the Commonwealth, it has to be shared in that kind of fashion. So I think that the owners are willing to step into a negotiation and enter into it, but they have to be comfortable that there are going to be other players coming with funding themselves also. No one wants to be left holding the bag.
Howard: Clearly there is going to be a lot more discussion and work that needs to happen before any plans on this are finalized.
To learn more about Walsh's proposed resiliency plan for Boston, click here.