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Boston Requests Funds for Seawall

Thursday, September 9, 2021

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The Boston Planning and Development Agency has recently announced plans for a new program to raise funds for a seawall to protect the city’s low-lying Marine Industrial Park from rising ocean waters.

Through the new program, city officials are planning to ask developers interested in building in the park to contribute to the cost of the seawall and other defenses that will protect not just the slated newbuilds, but also the remnants of the maritime industry that still operate there.

Dubbed the Climate Resiliency Fund, the program works much like other commercial developer programs that require a contribution for things such as affordable housing, park space or infrastructure upgrades. This program, however, focuses instead on contributions for various climate defenses.

According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, construction of a protective seawall could cost the city up to $124 million. However, this number is only specific to the most urgently needed protections regarding a 191-acre area. The Boston Globe reports that in its current state, the area could begin to experience an uptick in flooding as soon as the 2030s and could be largely under water at high tide by the end of the century.

“The marine park, like many other parts of Boston, is vulnerable to the sea level rise from climate change,” said Devin Quirk, Real Estate Director at the BPDA, which this year is launching an effort to lean on private-sector developers to help pay for defenses.

Previously, Boston’s Seaport District had required new developments to erect defenses such as flood barriers on their own properties. In another instance, the Suffolk Downs project has been landscaped to better manage flood waters.

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The Boston Planning and Development Agency has recently announced plans for a new program to raise funds for a seawall to protect the city’s low-lying Marine Industrial Park from rising ocean waters.

In looking to the marine park specifically, Boston officials expect that developers will eventually cover about $40 million of the cost of improvements. The first new project that’ll pay into the fund—Marcus Partners’ conversion of the former Au Bon Pain headquarters on Fid Kennedy Avenue into a lab building—was recently awarded BPDA approval.

In receiving approval, the Marcus Partners has agreed to pay up to $250,000 per year toward climate defense in the neighborhood as part of the project.

“You can attack the problem at the source, at the critical failure point,” said Levi Reilly, principal at Marcus Partners. “Also you get the cost efficiency of scale. You’re building everything at one time rather than everyone trying to do something on their own.”

With the newly acquired funds, BPDA plans to finance improvements, such as a three-to-five-foot seawall and elevated harbor walk, then use the money from developers to pay down debt.

It has been reported that the company won’t have to pay this debt until tenants amounting to 50% of the city-controlled land sign onto similar agreements. However, the BPDA expects that to happen relatively quickly as new developers take over additional parcels.

Alice Brown, Chief of Planning and Policy at the nonprofit Boston Harbor Now, suggests that programs like the resiliency fund could be well-suited for areas where there’s a high demand for real estate and new development opportunities.

Recent Flood Protection Efforts

To better prepare the state for future flooding and sea level rise, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills into law in May, outlining a several-years-long spending plan.

According to reports, the signing of SB 1954 and SB 2514 will officially set aside hundreds of millions of state dollars over the next few years to fund flooding infrastructure projects and mediate rising sea levels, among other things.

As part of the legislation, the Department of Environmental Protection has been tasked with preparing an annual flooding and resiliency plan. The development of the plan requires the Department to compile data every five years to best determine the highest at-risk coastal communities. Environmental officials will also use this data to devise their first vulnerability assessment for flooding under sea level rise across the state. The assessments are slated to be updated every five years.

The new research hub for these data-compiling initiatives is planned to be situated at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg.

In addition, the DEP will also provide up to $100 million annually to local communities, in which submitted applications for government funding will be ranked by the Department. Much of the funding is expected to come from documentary stamp taxes, while lawmakers could redirect more than $100 million per year of that revenue from trust funds for affordable housing.

Although several environmental groups and legislators expressed support of the bills’ passing, some criticize that the actions were belated and still not enough to prepare these at-risk communities.

Earlier that spring, however, the City of Miami announced that it had completed its updates on its Stormwater Master Plan, a comprehensive assessment of the city’s roads, drainage infrastructure and water management features to identify improvements needed to address capacity and flooding issues.

The final plan covers nearly $4 billion in spending over the next 40 years in an effort to keep the city dry from rising seas, with some of its recommendations to be included in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which considers changing climactic patterns, sea level rise and the desire to strengthen the resiliency of Miami.

According to an Executive Summary regarding the SWMP, the city has planned for the initial funding of projects that will mitigate flooding, protect and enhance the water quality of Biscayne Bay, and strengthen the shorelines from tidal storm inundation.

Work on the plan was reported to have launched two years ago in 2019 when sea levels were expected to rise 18-30 inches by 2070. However, those predictions have since increased, now predicting that the sea levels would rise that high 20 years sooner in 2050.

The SWRP involved a series of studies, analyzation of data and recommendations made by engineers to create the collection of planning-level costs for capital projects. The plan also considered design storm flooding predictions using stormwater models simulating topography and land use, the physical attributes of the stormwater management system, controls and limitations, and the runoff generated by rainfall, in order to properly identify deficiencies and recommend corrective actions.

The simulations were identified by Miami-Dade County 311 flooding complaint system, the Federal Emergency Management Agency repetitive loss system, as well as from Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and other reported flooding complaints.

The city notes that the end result is a cost-benefit balanced suite of both conventional and innovative approaches, which utilizes the natural environment as an asset, and protects Biscayne Bay. From here, the project is divided into four major work phases including a data collection and evaluation phase, stormwater modeling phases, a seal level rise evaluation and resiliency considerations phase and a capital improvement program phase.

For the $3.8 billion the city plans to spend over the next four decades, the City of Miami intends to purchase at least 93 new mega stormwater pumps (the city currently has 13), miles of six-foot-tall seawalls, thousands of injection wells, as well as a network of underground pipes which would expand the sizes from roughly three to four feet wide to eight feet wide. The SWMP also mentions the “eventual requirement” of flood walls and water barriers at the mouths of rivers and canals—a part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ $6 billion plan to protect the county from future storm surge.

In addition, the plan also hints at more futuristic-type projects such as floating cities and converting roads to canals.

To decide on what level of protection city planners wanted to prepare for, they observed “1-in-5 year” and “1-in-10 year” storms. While building to a 10-year storm standard would offer more protection (estimated to cause 11 inches of rain over a three-day period), it could cost up to $5.1 billion, compared to the $3.8 billion five-year plan (estimated to cause seven inches of rain over one day).

To pay for the series of projects, the report suggests grants and the combination of state and federal funding, in addition to partnerships with private companies. However, another issue with the plan is that the $3.8 billion outlined does not include maintenance costs and would have to be contracted out. Should the city fail to get the proper funding, the Miami Herald points out that the estimated cost of adaptation is four times the city’s annual budget, and with about $175 million left in the Miami Forever Bond dedicated to sea level rise projects.

The first slew of projects, which are expected to be completed within the next five to 10 years, are expected to cost $545 million if done at the lower level of protection. The estimated cost for those same projects at the higher level of protection, however, is $911 million.

And last year, the United States Army Corps of Engineers announced a preliminary proposal of a $1.75 billion seawall around the lower Charleston Peninsula in South Carolina. However, with possible variations, the cost of the seawall could inflate to as much as $2.2 billion.

Back in 2018, the Corps, Charleston District received $3 million in federal Emergency Supplemental Funding to study coastal storm impacts on the Charleston Peninsula. In partnership with the City of Charleston and its stakeholders, the Corps was also instructed to develop an economic- and environmentally-friendly solution to effectively mitigate long-term storm risks in the area.

According to reports, since the Charleston tide gauge was installed in 1899 on the peninsula, the sea level has increased by a foot, with predictions threatening a more significant increase by the end of the century.

As a response to the research findings, external scoping meetings and weekly Corp-organized team meetings that include city staff have been reported to take place. Team members involved in the Interagency Coordination Team include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the SC Office of Coastal Zone Management, the SC Historic Preservation Office, the National Park Service, the Historic Charleston Foundation and others.

Additionally, the city itself was also working to protect its residents, having launched Charleston’s second edition of its Flooding and Sea Level Rise Strategy and through its various recent and ongoing projects involving drainage improvements and rehabilitating the Low Battery seawall, among others.

In reaching this stage of the project’s development, the Corps initially proposed a 60-day comment period but, because of the COVID-19 health crisis, no engagement was able to be made in person.


Tagged categories: Environmental Control; Environmental Protection; Flood Barrier; Funding; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Seawall

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