A new state-level strategy that Gov. Maura Healey sketched out Tuesday will help Massachusetts' 78 coastal communities cope with flood damage, erosion and other consequences of climate change.
From the seaside Carriage House in Beverly, Healey announced that she will bring on a new "chief coastal resilience officer." Healey said that person will oversee a new initiative “to bring the full powers of the state to deliver real solutions to our coastlines.”
As sea levels rise and both tidal and storm-related flooding increases, the governor's office said Massachusetts could face more than $1 billion in annual average damages to coastal structures by 2070.
“We’re not going to stand by while a major storm wrecks people’s homes, or coastal erosion pulls down seawalls out from under our small businesses,” Rebecca Tepper, Healey’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said in a statement. “We have some tough questions ahead – where will it be safe to build? How can we preserve our historical landmarks? What infrastructure will withstand ever worsening weather? We’re taking on some of the difficult aspects of coastal resiliency, and we’re doing it in partnership with municipalities, lawmakers, academics, and advocates to build consensus along the way.”
The new initiative, dubbed "ResilientCoasts," will involve grouping communities among the state's more than 1,500 miles of coastline into geographic regions that share similar landscapes — like dunes, ports, rocky shores, residential areas and commercial districts — and face similar climate hazards. Healey's office said the districts will be drawn next year, and officials will then work with those communities on tailored strategies and funding opportunities.
The state's Office of Coastal Zone Management will lead the ResilientCoasts work. Lisa Berry Engler, director of Coastal Zone Management, said the project will develop a statewide plan that identifies areas particularly vulnerable to weather events like storm surges, sea level rise, coastal flooding and precipitation.
"We're going to use all the tools in the toolbox," she told GBH News. "We're going to look at policy, local zoning standards, regulatory frameworks, and then especially financial and fiscal considerations and programs that we should be employing to help pay for what we know we're going to need to do to adapt our coast."
That means, Berry Engler said, using a mix of local, state and federal resources. She said the initiative will provide information and tools for communities to make decisions that work for them.
"Massachusetts obviously has a very strong and unique coastal community fabric where the coastal communities have strong voices and have very strong cultural and unique cultural connections to the coast," Berry Engler said.