Massachusetts communities are about to get much desired state aid for sea walls, with the launch of a low-interest loan program intended to help towns pay for the expensive coastal infrastructure.
Officials met in Scituate on Tuesday the discuss the Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Fund bill, signed into law in January, which allows communities to apply for loans from a $20 million revolving fund.
“What I’m most excited about is it created this revolving loan fund,” said State Representative Jim Cantwell, who introduced and sponsored the legislation.
The money will come from a defunct trust that used to provide loans for water treatment renovations. There is currently $17 million in the account, with another $3 million estimated to be collected.
The Scituate meeting, taking place with members of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and with state representatives, was one of four to take place around the region this week, with the goal of developing criteria for selecting community projects and raising awareness about the program.
The application period ends in August, with money to be disbursed in the fall. The fund will be split equally between sea walls and dams.
For Cantwell, the program is only the tip of the iceberg on how to handle evolving coastal issues.
“My hope is this process being so open and transparent, the people will have a general consensus of how to prioritize this use of funds…and then we will be able to generate greater support for state and federal money to address a growing public policy concern,” Cantwell said.
Additional state funding may come soon, as Governor Deval Patrick recently filed legislation that would bond $120 million for sea walls. Whether that money would be in the form of loans or grants hasn't been determined, Cantwell said, and the legislative package is still at the committee hearing level.
In the meantime, communities from Quincy to Plymouth, including Cantwell’s areas of representation in Scituate and Marshfield, can benefit from the $20 million that could be given out as loans with interest rates as low as 0 percent.
“They do have to get paid back, but without interest,” Cantwell said. “We specifically authorize OEEA to make out grants to this fund if there is an emergency.”
One of the criteria being developed will favor both Scituate and Marshfield, Cantwell said, as the grants will look at whether communities will match the funds. As both communities have paid money for sea wall repairs in the past, they might have an advantage in getting future funding.
“This fund is fit for purposes of the whole southern Boston area…everybody has a potential to [get] a fair amount of funds to match the efforts for each of those communities,” Cantwell said.
With ongoing discussions on how to handle rising sea levels, and concerns about how storms may affect coastal infrastructure, the program will at least contribute to solving coastal problems, Cantwell said.
“We know that sea level rise is happening. It’s unquestioned by all who live around the coast that this is taking place. Putting aside any of the finger pointing, we’re practically saying how are we going to act now and protect public safety, protect infrastructure, protect a way of life,” he said.