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Menino Announces Storm-Readiness Initiatives

BOSTON — Boston officials will spend the next six months reviewing ways to better prepare the city for climate change.

Mayor Thomas Menino on Tuesday announced new initiatives aimed at improving Boston’s readiness for storms like Hurricane Sandy, such as climate change preparedness guidelines for new buildings and better enforcement of flood-proofing standards.

This map shows the impact of 7.5 feet of flooding above mean high tide on the Boston Harbor coastline. (Courtesy The Boston Harbor Association)

This map shows the impact of 7.5 feet of flooding above mean high tide on the Boston Harbor coastline. (The Boston Harbor Association)

The Boston Harbor Association says in a new report that climate change is already putting Boston’s waterfront at risk, and in under 40 years many parts of the city will be vulnerable to flooding.

“A number of sites may be at risk of increased storm flooding after 2050, including Logan Airport, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the Bay State Expo Center site of UMass Boston,” said Vivien Li, president of the Boston Harbor Association, a nonprofit organization that works to keep the harbor accessible.

“About 6 percent of Boston’s land area could have been flooded had Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge hit Boston five and a half hours earlier, when it was high tide,” Li said. Flood waters would have reached City Hall.

Scientists expect the sea level to rise at least 2.5 feet by the end of the century and possibly as much as 6 feet. Menino says Boston needs to be ready for both scenarios.

“I want us to be as prepared as we can be for future storms and the effects of climate change,” Menino said.

Over the next six months the mayor says the Boston Redevelopment Authority will survey buildings, MBTA stations and major roads for flood risk. The city’s Inspectional Services and the Public Health Commission will improve guidelines for flood-proofing and new buildings will be required to be designed for future flooding.

Brian Swett, chief of environment and energy for the city of Boston, says there is a lot private property owners can do today to prepare.

“There are building level changes that folks can make today, that real estate owners can better prepare their specific building assets for flooding,” Swett said. “Infrastructure changes do take a lot of time and money — that has to be part of the consideration for the right solutions. We want to operate at the building scale, the neighborhood scale and at the infrastructure scale.”

The city hopes private businesses will make changes without being forced. Richard Dimino, president of the business group A Better City, says he thinks the business community will respond.

“I think with Sandy just still fresh in our memory, there’s a lot of lessons learned for us in the private sector and the people that own property along coastal areas,” Dimino said. “I think it’s very wise for organizations like ours and our members and other property members to take those lessons learned very seriously.”

The new report suggests the city should start talking about the concept of “living with water,” because by the end of the century regular flooding will be a reality.

“We have to be prepared for this,” said Seth Kaplan, vice president for climate advocacy and policy at the Conservation Law Foundation. “These are the impacts that are baked into the system. We know this is coming, what the report really emphasizes is it’s a matter of time.”

Responding to all these threats depends on a lot of different players. Those include managers of state and federal infrastructure, public transit and the electric grid. The Boston Harbor Association report concludes that neither the private sector nor the public sector alone has the resources to prepare Boston for increased coastal flooding.

This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.

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