Officials in Boston Discuss Ways to Protect the City From Future Weather-Related Calamities

By Mack Wilowski, National News Editor

High-cost weather calamities have become more prevalent in recent years, and the past year has been a case in point.

Unsuspecting weather-related events, from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the Gulf Cost to wildfires in California, have brought ever-increasing monetary costs and damages to property, especially as urban areas become more exposed to such calamities. The most recent weather phenomenon in the U.S. had been the so-called “bombonesis” superstorm that affected much of the East Coast in early January, impacting states as far South as Georgia and South Carolina and extending toward New England.

Among urban areas, the city of Boston in particular has witnessed a fair share of extreme winter weather in recent years, from record-breaking snowfall during the 2014/2015 winter season to the effects of this year’s snowstorm. During the most recent storm, a rush of tidal water partially inundated a section of Boston’s Long Wharf neighborhood. Due to the sub-zero temperatures prevalent throughout several days, the tidal water froze over completely and trapped dozens of vehicles in the ice. The retrieval process took several days as weather conditions gradually improved.

To lessen the impact of potential future storm, city officials in Boston are considering a number of proposals for storm barriers and other implementations. Steven Miller, a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, developed a computer model testing how future storms might impact downtown Boston, focusing on the “Big Dig” road tunnel which runs below central Boston. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Miller explained that the potential cost for storm-proofing the Big Dig would amount to nearly $200 million.

That sum is miniscule, however, compared with the cost of ensuring the whole of downtown. City officials have proposed building a giant floodgate that could seal off Boston harbor, but such an undertaking would cost up to $10 billion and take over a decade to complete. Currently, no major project is yet underway, and residents worry that the next major storm could leave the city dangerously unprepared and exposed. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a press conference that the recent storm in January is a reminded of what could transpire in the future and added: “I don’t think any city in America, or quite honestly the world, is prepared for one of these devastating storms.”

According to observers, it is imperative that public projects meant to protect cities from natural disasters be considered on a cost-benefit analysis. The highest priority should go to ensuring that infrastructure and currently existing levees, bridges, and dams be updated or renovated to be able to withstand large-impact storm surges. According to a city report issued in 2016, sea levels in Boston relative to land rose by about nine inches during the previous century, and are expected to rise an additional eight inches in the thirty year span from 2000 to 2030. “The ocean is taking back parts of Boston that were once filled in,” states Bud Ris of the New England Aquarium, referring to the fact that modern Boston was built on land converted from the sea.


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, January 30th print edition.

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