MIT report says climate change a problem
for Lynn waterfront

August 3, 2010
By David Liscio/The Daily Item

Lynn city planning agencies, especially those involved with the ongoing waterfront development, must not ignore the prospect of climate change, according to a report released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The report, "Managing Risk: Helping Cities in Massachusetts Adapt to Climate Change," states that Lynn has not prepared for the possibility of increased rains and more frequent storm surges caused by global warming.

Boston, Gloucester and New Bedford were also focuses of the report, which examined whether a community is incorporating climate change into everyday planning and decision-making.

Although Lynn and Gloucester received low grades, the report acknowledged that there are no regulations requiring cities to adapt to climate change. As a result, state agencies such as the Department of Coastal Zone Management and the Department of Environmental Protection have not adopted standards, nor have cities received information about specific climactic threats.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers only recently published guidelines describing how civil engineers should deal with issues such as the anticipated rise in sea level.

A map of the dredging planned for the Lynn Waterfront project. Graphic courtesy of Lynn Office of Economic and Community Development

Lynn officials are moving forward with a major mixed-use waterfront development plan after electrical transmission lines have been relocated, creating 300 contiguous acres of land.

According to the report, neither the Lynn Office of Economic and Community Development (LOECD) or the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (EDIC) have seriously considered climate adaptation. "Climate change adaptation is not a current priority for the city officials, organizations and citizens of Lynn. Rather, public safety, the national recession, economic development, job creation and energy efficiency occupy people's attention," the report, authored primarily by MIT graduate students, concluded.

LOECD Director James Marsh took issue with the findings, noting that the city's Municipal Harbor Plan includes wind power, shading and greenspace as well as a component for repairing the existing seawall. "The bulkhead will eventually be rebuilt, but before that is done, factors like water tables, tides and climate change will be taken into consideration," he said.

Marsh said the planned harbor dredging, using a $250,000 federal grant, also relates to climate change since its completion would likely help abate a storm surge. The dredging would connect the primary harbor navigation channel to the Saugus River and Point of Pines, allowing vessels to make a continuous loop as they entered and exited the area.

EDIC Executive Director James Cowdell said city agencies have been in constant communication with state and federal agencies as waterfront development plans proceed.

"We have dealt with every licensing agency the government has, from DEP to CZM to the EPA, and none of them ever raised any concerns about climate change," he said. "I'm happy that at MIT they are talking about development in Lynn. I think that in itself is a positive. I'm not sure where they have been until now, but we're not going to stop everything due to some report that says within the next 90 years the height of the ocean is going to increase."

Besides, said Cowdell, plans to clean up a former landfill near the southern end of the Lynnway should reduce methane gases that are often cited as a cause of global warming.

Tony Dunn, a member of the Lynn Coalition for Green Development, was quoted in the report expressing concern that neglected neighborhoods along Bennett and Alley streets, just inshore from the Waterfront Master Plan area, might be impacted by climate change. A storm surge could flood regional transportation corridors, including Route 1A and the commuter rail, he said.

Although most government agencies have not concentrated on the climate scenario, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 2001 increased by two feet the elevation of its new Deer Island sewage treatment plant in anticipation of sea-level rise.

"While there has been no specific study of the likely impact of climate change on Lynn, reference to the Union of Concerned Scientists' report 'Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast' suggests that the city will face rising sea levels, increased storm activity, more high-rainfall events, droughts, heat waves and a surge in vector-borne disease," said MIT report co-author Tyler Corson-Rikert. "As a coastal city, sea level is one of the most obvious concerns, with levels estimated to rise 7 to 75 inches by the end of the century."

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