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East Boston pier being redeveloped into waterfront park that protects against flooding

BOSTON (CBS) -- It's a bit of an eyesore along East Boston's waterfront. There's a pile of beat-up old lumber that juts out next to Piers Park.

"That entire complex used to be a railyard where they would bring freight cars filled with grain and load them on steamer ships to send them across the ocean," explained Nick Black, the managing director of the Trustees of Reservations Boston Waterfront initiative.

The Trustees own and manage thousands of acres of open space across the state, including some of the most popular parks, forests, and beaches. Now the non-profit is hoping to turn that slice of East Boston History into a waterfront park.

"We can do something really unique here," Black said, sharing details of plans to turn that old pier into a space where residents and visitors would have access to the water. "There are actually very few places around Boston Harbor where you can get down and put your toes in the water and launch a kayak."

But this project is not just about recreation. It's also a defense against climate change.

"We know that looking at Climate Ready Boston studies, that in the next 30 – 70 years, we are going to see a lot of inundation flooding on a regular basis," Black said.

There are already more so-called sunny day floods along Boston's waterfront than ever before. In 2000, the area saw six days of ocean flooding. By 2020, that number jumped to 11, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by 2030, Boston could see up to 30 days of flooding.

So how does a park help?

The design includes salt marshes, pools and native plants that will help absorb those flood waters. The design is something Bill Golden of the Boston Harbor Regional Storm Surge Working Group believes is a great idea.

"This Park will be resilient to sea level rise for a long time to come," he said.

However, Golden believes the park is only part of what is needed to protect Boston's coastal neighborhoods.

"What you need in densely populated urban areas is a combination of green infrastructure and gray infrastructure," he said.

By green infrastructure, he means parks like the one that is being built to replace the old pier. The gray infrastructure Golden is talking about includes a sea gate, which would protect Boston and surrounding communities from a storm surge. New Bedford has one that protects about 1,400 thickly settled acres in that city, as well as Fairhaven and Acushnet from tidal flooding associated with hurricanes and coastal storms.

A similar gate in Boston would come with a huge price tag, but without it, Golden believes the Harbor communities are in trouble.

"The public has no idea the existential threat to the future of our communities and the city of Boston," he said.

Black says he is fully aware that The Trustees can't fix this problem on their own, but they are committed to this project which will require little taxpayer investment. The organization is also hoping to build similar parks in other waterfront neighborhoods in the future.

"The opportunity that we really saw was to bring some value to Boston's climate resiliency goals and to create some places where people can enjoy the waterfront in a way that is really kind of limited at this point," he said.

Massport is also developing another parcel next to the pier. When it's all done, there will be a total of 15 acres of green space for residents and visitors to enjoy.

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