Freedberg: Mayor Wu’s East Boston Climate Change Plan: What’s Missing?

by MIKE FREEDBERG
SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM

East Boston is seriously challenged by sea rise.

Whether the cause is nature’s doing or of human waste is a matter of some debate and much agenda evangelizing. Yet streets now flood at very high tides and so do the basements of local residences. If seas continue to rise, as is generally assumed, much of “Eastie” will be inhabitable unless we answer the call. So, to quote the infamous Mr. Lenin, what is to be done?

On that, Mayor Wu and reality seem far apart. Gleaned from the City of Boston’s website, here is the current plan, such as it is: http://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-east-boston.

Kings Tide
Courtesy of the HarborKeepers

Can this “plan” really be a year old, as the city’s website has it? If it has been updated, I could not find it. Furthermore, a sea rise plan is only a part – a small part – of what is an omnivorous City plan to remake almost everything about East Boston: traffic, parking, development, zoning. Yet this elephantine plan makes no mention – at least that I can find – of the steps that should be taken to overcome sea rise.

What, then, ought the City do to bolster East Boston against sea rise?

I have some suggestions, many of which citizen activists like the Harborkeepers are already working on:

(1) provide city funding assistance for property owners to waterproof their basements, including building berms and even raising buildings up, and to place their electrical service lines under the top roof, away from a basement;

(2) funding assistance for waterproofing heating systems, most of which are located in basements;

(3) constructing tidal berms that direct sea water away from ow-lying street, especially in the Central Square area;

(4) raise Bennington Street at least 12 inches from the old Casket Company site to Beachmont T stop. Belle Isle Marsh already floods Bennington at very high tides

(5) berm the full length of the Blue Line from Beachmont to where it goes underground between Airport and Maverick station. The entirety of the Blue Line, including most of the Revere portion (except for the Beachmont rise) is immediately threatened with tidal flooding.

EastBostonGlobalWarming

More expensive by far, and more ambitious to be sure, would be to construct a water passageway underneath Central Square and up Bennington Street to Chelsea Street, then following Chelsea Street to the Creek, whereby sea water can be channeled away from the low-lying, built-up areas of East Boston. Ambitiously we built subways for people, why not now a subway for seawater?

All of these steps would actually help. Yet instead of them, the city appears to want to use sea rise as an excuse to implement – citywide – a kind of exaggerated “green new deal”: eliminate parking spaces so as to make it harder to drive; give away Federal infrastructure money to pay for “free” buses; develop even more “transit-oriented,” densely-packed, dormitory-sized units for singles who don’t have cars. For whose benefit is it to use sea rise as leverage to impose public transportation upon a population which still overwhelmingly depends upon – and enjoys the freedom of – automobiles to go from place to place?

It should never be the business of a government to dictate to people what mode of transportation they should use. And sea rise – climate change, even – must not be allowed to justify such an imposition.

I call upon the City of Boston to focus its sea rise response on sea rise and not on other objectives which no one except zealots would even think of in a purely sea rise context.

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Photo credit: EastBoston.com

Lastly, I understand the very standard political plan of putting one’s entire wish list out there hoping that at least some of it will gain traction. After all, the more stuff one plans, the more interest groups find a stake in it.

Let the city’s parking, bus lane, zoning and designations remain in the discussion, by all means. I respect the thinking and imagining that the 20 members of East Boston’s BPDA plan have contributed to the conversation. I know almost all the 20 contributors and think highly of them as citizens and as friends. That said, choices must be made, and if anything, the significant ones with respect to our sea rise challenge have not been made.

I would also love to know the thinking on this matter of Gabriella Coletta, who is the favorite to be East Boston’s new District Councilor in two weeks.

Mitigation measures should be presented on their own, independently without reliance upon the city’s other, larger plans. The devil is, as always, in the individual details. My own view is that the sea rise plans which I have listed above are more than enough work to occupy both the city and its citizens for many, many years.

Let’s get to work.

— Mike Freedberg

Mike Freedberg is editor and publisher of the blog, Here and Sphere. He is also a political consultant. He contributes original, participatory content regularly to EastBoston.com.

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