Governor Announces State Coastal Resilience Initiative

by Tim Wood
Construction of the new bulkhead at the Chatham Fish Pier last year took coastal resilience concerns into account. FILE PHOTO Construction of the new bulkhead at the Chatham Fish Pier last year took coastal resilience concerns into account. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – With 66 miles of shoreline, coastal resiliency is a major concern for the town, and a state initiative focusing on addressing climate change impacts along the state’s shoreline could provide strategies and funding to boost local efforts.

The ResilientCoasts initiative recently announced by the Healy-Driscoll administration aims to identify regulatory, policy and funding mechanisms to help the state’s 78 coastal communities deal with the impact of climate change. The state could see sea level rise of 2.5 feet by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, according to the governor’s office, an annual average damage to coastal structures could be more than $1 billion a year by 2070. Billions of dollars of residential and commercial property are directly in floodplains and vulnerable to damage. Those figures will only grow as time goes on, the governor’s office said in a statement.

The initiative calls for the establishment of coastal resilience districts along the state’s 1,500 miles of coastline. District will encompass geographic regions that share similar landscape characteristics and face similar climate hazards, according to the governor’s office. Plans are for the districts to be delineated this year; communities would then collaborate to develop resilience policies and regulations and leverage both state and federal funding.

Resilience strategies will be developed by the state office of coastal zone management under the leadership of a chief coastal resilience officer, who has yet to be named. Among the goals is to develop a modern regulatory framework and update state wetlands, waterways, building codes and Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act regulations to better address climate change impacts. That means supporting nature-based solution for erosion and flood protection; streamline the permitting process for coastal restoration and resilience projects; and ensure that permitting and regulatory processes consider future sea level rise and precipitation levels that reflect climate science.

“There are still a lot of questions” regarding how the elements of the ResilientCoast initiative will impact local communities, said Natural Resources Director Greg Berman, such as how the coastal resilience districts will be arranged.

Much of what is being discussed on the regulatory level is not new, he added. Draft regulations that address many of the elements of the program have been around for decades.

“It’s not a surprise these are coming,” he said. “We’ve ramped up for them so many times over the years.”

Given the rate of change, there’s no rationale for holding on to concepts such as 100-year storms and the flooding that go along with them, Berman said. Such storms have been happening with increasing frequency, often sending flood waters into areas that have never seen flooding before.

New building restrictions, such as a complete ban on structures in some flood zones, are likely to come with the initiative, as well as restrictions on redevelopment, including requiring that buildings be elevated on pilings in areas where that previously was not required.

Berman expects revised regulations to lean heavily on green solutions rather than man-made structures to promote coastal resilience. That’s also a priority with the Cape Cod Commission’s low-lying road project, which identifies roads in Cape towns, including Chatham, that could be threatened by the changing climate.

“But it’s not going to work everywhere,” Berman said of green solutions. Adaptive management is another strategy, perhaps involving moving infrastructure or retreating from coastal areas where possible.

Chatham has already taken steps to build coastal resilience into waterfront projects, such as last year’s upgrades to the fish pier.

The town has also done well in recent years in obtaining state coastal resilience, dredging and Seaport Council grants to fund various projects, but the new resilience initiative could increase competition for those monies. The initiative calls for identifying new funding mechanisms in order to have a reliable support stream to incentivize coastal resilience. According to the governor’s office, CZM has applied for $73 million in federal grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Resilience Regional Challenge, working with 55 community partners. The administration also plans to work with the state legislature to develop funding strategies.