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Quincy looking to Boston as a partner in climate-change plan

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 25, 2013 01:39 PM

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After efforts to create a climate-action plan locally fell through, Quincy is looking to join climate-change discussions taking place in Boston.

“Quincy should create its own plan. It should develop specs with the team of Boston in any way it can and be eligible for funding,” said Dennis Harrington, Quincy's planning director.

City councilors voted 8-to-1 for a resolve to develop a Climate Adaption Plan, with high hopes that the effort can be done in tandem with the Boston Harbor Association.

“It would be so much cheaper for Quincy to add on that effort rather than reinvent the same wheel in the same harbor,” said Julie Wormser, executive director of the association, during a council meeting Monday.

Quincy has been trying to hop on the climate-change preparation bandwagon since 2003, working to retrofit houses that were continually damaged by storms.

From 2003 to 2007, 18 houses received Federal Emergency Management Association assistance, yet funding soon diminished.

Plans resurrected again in March 2012 through flood-control plans with the Massachusetts Area Planning Council (MAPC). Though Quincy hoped to partner with Cambridge and Boston in their climate change study, the council redirected Quincy to a Weymouth and Braintree partnership.

Attempts to materialize the consortium dissolved, yet Quincy continued on its own. In May 2012, officials hosted an event at the Thomas Crane Public Library to educate the public on climate change.

Quincy had additionally hoped to be a pilot community in an MAPC study looking at vulnerabilities in coastal communities, yet that, too, lost funding in spring 2012.

By summer, MAPC began a Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy study. The final meeting will be held on Nov. 4.

With that as the groundwork, Harrington said he is optimistic the city can finally develop a climate-change plan.

“I’m hoping this goes to the mayor as a council recommendation and he’ll agree to put some horsepower behind it, and allow us to join with the city of Boston,” Harrington said.

Wormser, who presented the Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Boston during Monday's meeting, spelled out the need for such a plan and some kind of partnership.

The main compelling reason is the science. Estimates predict that sea levels will rise one to two feet by 2050, and three to six feet by 2100, Wormser said.

In Boston, a rise of five feet could flood approximately seven percent of the city, Wormser said. In Quincy, Harrington predicted 10 percent of the city could be affected in the same margin.

“Given the fact that we have 25 miles of coastline, [it’s possible],” Harrington said.

Add to those numbers storm surges and astronomical high tides, which would only worsen flooding.

Though daunting, the solutions are more about managing water, Wormser said.

“It’s not about doing everything today - dropping school funding, dropping health care funding. It’s managing for water over time, just as San Francisco has had to manage for earthquakes,” Wormser said. “…San Francisco doesn’t look like a fortress. They are inviting beautiful design.”

In the public sector, resilience means developing an action plan as well as developing flood zone maps that are accurate for planning usages.

Cities should require buildings in flood zones to be resilient throughout their lifespan, and governments should help residents overcome barriers to action, Wormser said.

Private businesses should begin to assess building vulnerabilities, such as having utilities in the basement floor, and to develop a phased-in approach.

Wormser listed examples where these actions are already occurring, where Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston has elevated vulnerable building systems to the roof, and moved any critical patient programs above the first floor.

Cities around the globe are also managing water through infrastructure. Seoul, South Korea, has developed a channel for the wet season that can accommodate excess flooding. Other places have below-grade caverns for water storage. Both become public gathering spaces when they're dry.

“What we’re looking at bad luck, extreme storms today, one day will be twice-a-day high tide,” Wormser said. “…These are major capital investments we need to make, and the sooner we start, the cheaper it will be over time.”

With the exception of Councilor Brian McNamee, all the councilors were on board with the idea.

“We can learn from [Boston] and leverage some of the work they have been doing…this is the first [discussion] that we as a city council have had about sea level rise,” said Councilor Doug Gutro. “…I hope it’s not the last.”

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