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175-Mile Seawall, Sea Gates Proposed To Protect Boston Harbor Cities, Towns From Future Flooding

BOSTON (CBS) -- Former Massachusetts State Senator Bill Golden believes the waterfront is one of Boston's biggest threats.

"We have been given a warning, and we're playing Russian roulette with nature," he told WBZ-TV. "The impacts of storm surge and sea level rise are real. They are here today and we have to address them."

A multi-layered and united defense is needed to preserve Boston and the surrounding 14 communities on the harbor.

Golden is part of the Boston Harbor Regional Storm Surge Working Group, an organization committed to developing the protection.

The first proposal includes a seawall to be built along 175 miles of coastline from Winthrop to Hull. This could be both "gray," meaning cement walls, or "green," like a levy or dike. The seawall is aimed at protecting the area from sea level rise, which is currently rising at one-to-two inches every few years.

Joe Dellicarpini, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boston, says that even though that doesn't sound like a lot, it is a big deal.

"[The flooding] affects infrastructure. We get saltwater flooding that leads to more erosion, then we have to replace roads," said Dellicarpini.

New Bedford hurricane
Hurricane barrier in New Bedford (WBZ-TV)

The second part of Golden's plan includes a sea gate system to protect the harbor from future hurricane and nor'easter storm surges.

After hurricane strikes in 1938 and 1954, New Bedford had no choice but to invest in their seawall. According to New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, the city's harbor is the safest on the East Coast because of the wall.

The wall was built in the 1960s, and its biggest test was Hurricane Bob.

"It sort of proved the concept that there wasn't too much damage in New Bedford Harbor," says Mayor Mitchell.

The wall also gives New Bedford an economic competitive advantage. Multiple companies, including offshore wind farm business, have chosen to call this area home, in part due to the security the wall provides.

Other local leaders, like Marina Fernades of Milton, say any seawall that is built needs to include all members of the Boston Harbor area, both for the shared protection but also equitable cost-sharing.

"Not everyone has the resources or ability to defend themselves from this climate impact," says Fernades.

Golden admits the costs for a project of this scale will be high, but a recent study by Climate Ready Boston found that for every one dollar spent of hurricane preparedness and climate change mitigation, it saves seven dollars in disaster relief and rebuilding.

"It's not a problem we don't know how to solve. It's just we have to find the ability to, the leadership and resolution to do it," Golden said. "There is a huge cost to doing nothing."

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