Ward 5 Councillor John Powers:We Must Be Better Prepared for Natural Disasters

Last week’s major coastal flooding in our city and other Massachusetts communities served as a reminder of the immense respect we must have for nature, and a warning of the growing consequences of increasingly extreme weather.

There is plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence to support the claim that our climate is going to extremes more frequently. In recent years we have seen several major weather events in Revere that, in days gone by would have qualified as once-in-a-lifetime happenings. The winter of 2015 pummeled us. A tornado ripped through the middle of our city. The floodwaters last week – wich submerged Pearl Avenue, Winthrop Parkway, Riverside and for the first time I can ever remember crested over North Shore Road – seemed to rival what we dealt with in the Blizzard of ’78. Also last week, the Chelsea Creek rose high enough to cause damage to the first floor of the apartment complex at the old Slade’s Mill site on Revere Beach Parkway – one of Revere’s most historic locations – and caused cars in the parking lot to float.

According to a 2016 study by scientists at the University of Massachusetts and other local universities, which was cited in a recent Boston Globe article, sea levels could rise by 10 feet by the end of the century, and Boston and nearby communities will experience a higher increase in sea level than other parts of the world. Rob DeConto, a UMass climate scientist quoted in the Globe story, called Boston a ‘bull’s-eye for more sea level damage.”
If Boston is the bull’s eye, so too, are Revere, Winthrop, Lynn, and surrounding coastal communities These warnings must be taken seriously, and acted upon. This does not necessarily mean that we must abandon development near our shorelines. As we know, real estate near the ocean understandably holds great appeal to builders. What’s more, development of modern housing, entertainment, dining and retail spaces near our waterfront is key to making our city a more vital and desirable place to live and raise families.

How do we protect these prime development areas? One important step is to require proactive flood mitigation by developers in flood-prone areas. This can include laying larger drainage lines and culverts to help floodwater recede quickly, constructing buildings with higher ground floor elevations, to raise them above flood level, and putting mechanical and computerized systems on higher floors, rather than at ground level, so that if flooding does occur, a building’s heating, ventilation and electrical controls are protected.

As we continue to develop the beach and surrounding areas, and market the old Wonderland dog track and Suffolk Downs for major new projects, it is imperative that developers provide not only mitigation related to drainage around their sites, but also to construct their buildings in a way that is resilient to flood damage.

We also must continue to maintain and improve our existing drainage systems. We are blessed to have expansive wetlands just inland form many of our coastal areas. These marches act as a sponge to suck up excess water during storms and astronomical high tides. But it is incumbent upon us to keep these fragile ecosystems as pristine as possible. I’m happy to be working with the Arrigo administration on plans to clean and dredge the Eastern County Ditch that runs from Wonderland to the Arcadia Street area. Cleaning the ditch of trash and debris and cutting overgrowth of the phragmites reeds will ensure that storm waters have a clear path into the absorbent marsh.

The city must also continue to seek a way to re-open the Point of Pines Fire Station. This will include not only funding for repairs, or if necessary, building a new structure; but a sustainable revenue stream to maintain staffing and operations. An operating fire and rescue company at the station is vital to public safety, especially in light of the large residential complexes being built on the beach, planned hotels, and the threat to the Pines, Oak Island and the beach posed by extreme weather.

Funding provided to the city for the station could be part of any mitigation package required of coastal developers. The city should also look into the feasibility of federal homeland security grants for rescue equipment, including boats and high water rescue vehicles, to be housed at the station.

The most expensive and elaborate option is construction of a sea barrier off our coastline. That would be a massive undertaking that would be decades and billions of dollars away, and would be something that could only be accomplished with coordination among federal and state governments and other coastal municipalities.

But even if a barrier is pie-in-the-sky thinking, there is much that Revere can do on its own to prepare for a future that is expected to bring much more frequent extreme weather. It is incumbent on us as a city to plan for that future in our development, environmental management, and public safety strategies.

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