Flooded Hub: Boston prepares for the next destructive super storm

Boston under 7.5 feet of water
Boston under 7.5 feet of water

If Hurricane Sandy had hit Boston five hours earlier, during high tide, nearly 7 percent of the city could have been flooded and waters could have crept as far inland as City Hall.

But the Hub lucked out. On Oct. 29, Sandy’s storm surge hit the city near low tide, causing minor coastal flooding. The concern for residents and business owners across the historical coastal city, of course, is that next time we won’t be so fortunate.

“We can’t predict the next super storm but we can prepare for it,” said Mayor Thomas Menino today during a media availability at the New England Aquarium.

Menino was joined by Boston Harbor Association President Vivien Li to mark the release of the group’s new report, “Preparing for the Rising Tide,” which lays out recommendations for property owners to prepare for projected changes in sea level and coastal flooding over the next 90 years.

According to the Boston Harbor Association, sites that may be at risk for increased storm flooding by 2050 include Boston Logan International Airport, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and The Bay State Expo Center at UMass Boston.

By the end of the century, scientists predict there will be a five-foot storm surge and 2.5 feet rise in sea level. Thirty percent of the city would be flooded – including the Back Bay and portions of Beacon Hill.

To drive the point home, the head of a local development company painted a grim picture for coastal property owners who aren’t prepared for the city’s next big storm.

“Your staff is preparing and doing things like putting sandbags outside,” said Bryan Koop, senior vice president of Boston Properties, a leading developer in the city.  “You visit your lobby in the morning and everything seems fine. By ten o’clock you come in and there’s water coming down the street, but it’s not really rushing down.”

According to Koop, things could get very bad, very fast.

“You go upstairs and check on your customers come down at (noon), and all of a sudden you realize the water is up to the window; it’s a couple of feet high. Within seconds, it’s above your head and water is rushing against windows of your lobby.”

“Suddenly, there’s an explosion. Debris is coming in from all areas and you’re racing for the staircase for your life. Downstairs you find out later your engineers swam for their lives … and luckily they survived. This is not a movie. This took place in New York City.”

To make sure that terrifying scenario doesn’t happen here, Menino is calling for some short and long term changes.

Here is what will happen in the next six months:

  •    The Boston Redevelopment Authority will survey the preparedness of all buildings and MBTA stations that are likely to face climate change-related vulnerabilities.
  •   The BRA will increase climate preparedness in new development by including climate change preparedness as a required design component under the Article 80 Development Review Guidelines and developing climate-preparedness guidelines and checklists.
  •    The BRA will draft a Wetlands Ordinance that incorporates best practices for protection against sea-level rise and storm surge and develop new floodplain maps that incorporate projected changes in sea level and storm intensity and frequency.
  •      The Inspectional Services Department and Boston Public Health Commission will develop guidelines and prioritization for better enforcement of flood proofing standards for buildings in currently designated flood hazard.
  •    The Office of Emergency Management will lead an interdepartmental review of emergency operation planning for storms and flooding.

Long term plans:

  • Menino will convene a Cabinet level Climate Preparedness Task Force to review climate change preparedness activities and policies and provide guidance for their further development.
  • The Green Ribbon Commission will recommend actions that institutions and businesses can take to reduce their vulnerability to climate change and actions that the City of Boston can take to support those efforts.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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