Gov. Maura Healey announces the launch of the administration’s ResilientCoasts Initiative at the Carriage House at Lynch Park in Beverly on Nov. 28. (Photo courtesy Joshua Qualls/Governor’s Press Office)

At an event held at a waterfront park in Beverly yesterday, the Healey-Driscoll administration announced a new effort to pursue a holistic strategy for addressing the impacts of climate change along the Massachusetts coastline.

In collaboration with the state’s 78 coastal communities, the ResilientCoasts initiative will work to identify regulatory, policy and funding mechanisms that will support focused, long-term solutions, according to administration officials. The initiative will be led by a new chief coastal resilience officer within the Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The ResilientCoasts team will establish regional Coastal Resilience Districts based on their unique climate impacts, and will develop a coastal resilience strategy that aligns with the state’s ResilientMass Plan.

“Climate change poses a very real threat to our coastal way of life, but it also presents a unique opportunity for us to build communities that are safer and more equitable for years to come,” said Gov. Maura Healey. “Our coastal cities and towns have been weathering erosion, sea level rise and extreme storms without a holistic state strategy. … Our ResilientCoasts initiative will allow us to bring the full powers of the state to deliver real solutions to our coastlines.”

She said the initiative is the state’s first effort to address the resilience of the entire Massachusetts coastline, from Amesbury to Seekonk and the islands, and to encourage the sharing of best practices and strategies statewide.

Massachusetts has more than 1,500 miles of coastline, spanning salt marshes, beaches, rocky shores, dunes, ports and harbors, and residential and commercial areas. Healey said the coastline’s geographic differences, along with variations in development, habitats and other factors, point to the need for a regional approach to resilience. ResilientCoasts will collaborate with communities to implement tailored resilience policies and regulatory strategies and leverage multiple state and federal funding opportunities.

The new chief coastal resilience officer will oversee ResilientCoasts and provide cross-agency coordination. Healey said the Office of Coastal Zone Management’s experience with technical assistance, funding, partnerships and regulatory review to address coastal threats will allow the administration to act swiftly in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, who was previously mayor of the coastal city of Salem, said she and the governor “feel strongly about the need for both strong statewide support and local collaboration.”

MMA Executive Director Adam Chapdelaine applauded the administration “for launching this bold and timely effort.”

“Bringing these communities together in a deliberate manner certainly holds potential for a once-in-a-generation effort to protect both property values and ecosystems that are critical to the future of the Commonwealth,” he said. “The MMA looks forward to working with the administration and representing the needs and interests of local government as this critical initiative gets underway.”

Coastal impacts
If global greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced, according to the administration, Massachusetts is planning for sea level rise of as much as 2½ feet by 2050 compared to 2008, which will worsen both tidal and storm-related flooding. By 2070, statewide annual average damages to coastal structures could be more than $1 billion per year. The total value of structures within the floodplain for the current 100-year coastal storm is about $55 billion, of which about $40 billion is residential, $12 billion is industrial, and $2.5 billion is commercial. The number of vulnerable infrastructure assets and anticipated loss will grow over time as rising seas expand the coastal floodplain.

Of the nearly 2.5 million people that live in Massachusetts coastal communities, approximately 55% live within Massachusetts-designated Environmental Justice Block Groups, representing communities of color, low-income populations, and/or communities facing language barriers.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper said the state is “not going to stand by” while storms destroy homes, businesses and seawalls.

“We have some tough questions ahead,” she said. “Where will it be safe to build? How can we preserve our historical landmarks? What infrastructure will withstand ever-worsening weather? We’re taking on some of the difficult aspects of coastal resiliency, and we’re doing it in partnership with municipalities, lawmakers, academics, and advocates to build consensus along the way.”

Resilience strategies
ResilientCoasts will identify resilience strategies both for statewide implementation and tailored to each region.

The CZM will work with relevant state agencies to evaluate building standards, financing strategies, and scientific best practices, among other pursuits. It will also work with communities to assess strategies such as nature-based solutions, dredging, coastal nourishment, roadway elevation, and managed retreat. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will lead an evaluation of a statewide buyout program.

Healey said ResilientCoasts will work to identify innovative new financing mechanisms for climate resilience projects. New infrastructure and changing approaches to development will require reliable funding streams that are structured to incentivize coastal resilience.

The CZM has already led an effort to pursue federal funds through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Resilience Regional Challenge. The state’s application, which requests $73 million, was developed with 55 community partners.

The governor said the administration will work with the Legislature on any recommended funding approaches.

The CZM will also work with relevant agencies to identify updates to state wetlands and waterway regulations, the building code, and Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act regulations to better address the climate challenges of today.

The agencies will evaluate changes to:
• Support nature-based solutions for coastal erosion and flood protection and resilience
• Streamline the permitting process for coastal restoration and resilience projects
• Ensure that permitting and regulatory processes consider projected future sea level rise and precipitation levels

A Coastal Resilience Task Force, with representation from communities, businesses, scientists, community-based organizations, and environmental advocates, will be created to support the development of a strategy that meets the needs of coastal communities effectively and equitably. State agencies will engage in the effort through the inter-agency ResilientMass Action Team.

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