Lawmakers seek to strengthen coastal communities


September 26 – BOSTON – Rising waters and destructive storms fueled by climate change threaten coastal communities, and lawmakers are seeking protections to harden the shoreline.

The Legislative Assembly’s joint committee on the environment, natural resources and agriculture met virtually Wednesday to hear testimony on bills to strengthen coastal communities.

Senatorial Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a new state entity and advisory group to “identify, research, advance and deploy means, methods, technologies and approaches innovations to protect and strengthen the resilience of the state’s coastal coastline. . “

The objective of the proposed Coastal Erosion Innovation Center would be to protect beaches, marshes, dunes, and public and private property and infrastructure. The new entity would be authorized to award grants for coastal fortification aid projects.

Tarr said there is an urgent need to protect against climate change by taking a more proactive approach to coastal adaptation.

“Too often we hear about actions that need to be taken at the 11th hour – in the middle of a blizzard or hurricane,” Tarr told the panel. “We simply cannot afford to be the victim of indecision and inaction in light of the challenges we face.”

Some of the proposals heard by the committee are aimed at relaxing the regulations.

Legislation introduced by Representatives Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, would allow the governor to issue emergency rules authorizing the construction of fortifications and other structures in the dunes protected by state and other coastal areas to prevent flooding and storm damage.

“This would allow the governor to take temporary measures to protect homes, roads, water and sewer systems and other infrastructure,” Mirra said. “With more storms and sea level rise, this is something we’re going to have to sort out somehow.”

Another proposal, tabled by Senator Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, would allow communities to use Community Preservation Act funds to “rehabilitate beaches, dunes, dikes and other coastal infrastructure … to protect open spaces, historic resources and housing against flooding, sea level rise and storm surges. “

Environmental groups have sounded the alarm over the impact of climate change on the state’s coast, calling on lawmakers to fund adaptation programs. Many coastal communities are scrambling for money to fortify their shores.

Governor Charlie Baker seeks to divert $ 350 million in federal pandemic relief funds to the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, which funds dike fortification, erosion prevention coastal and flood reduction.

Lawmakers are reviewing his proposal as well as other funding requests.

Despite a record level of funding last year, demand for grants has exceeded the availability of funds, state officials said.

Heidi Ricci, policy director for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, said the state needs to step up efforts to fortify the coast to protect lives and property.

“The impacts of climate change are going to be very costly, putting people and property at risk,” she told the committee. “Establishing this kind of framework to ensure that our buildings, roads and other structures are climate resistant is very important. “

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]

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