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State Rolls Out New Tool To Support 'Climate Smart' Construction

The 99 Sumner St. construction site in East Boston sits between LoPresti Park and Carlton Wharf. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The 99 Sumner St. construction site in East Boston sits between LoPresti Park and Carlton Wharf. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Hoping to better prepare for the climate and environmental hazards of the future, the Baker administration launched a tool Wednesday to help cities and towns assess the climate change risk of planned projects and get recommendations to make the designs more resilient.

The Resilient MA Action Team Climate Resilience Design Standards Tool aims to get municipal leaders thinking about how climate change over the coming decades might affect developments that are still in the planning stages and for the state to share mitigation recommendations.

"You can't build the infrastructure the same way it was designed 50 years ago," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. "You need to think about the best practices and the strategies that are involved with building resilient infrastructure for the future. And that's where this design standards tool comes into play."

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides and other officials said the tool will be particularly helpful to cities and towns as they go through local planning exercises and when they apply for funding to state grant programs like the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program.

Theoharides said the tool offers design standards "for a future where we're seeing more frequent storms, higher seas [and] sea level rise."

Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill said his city "definitely will benefit" from the new tool, which launched in a beta form; state officials are asking for feedback to perfect it in the coming months.

Cahill noted that the city of Beverly is finishing construction on a new police station, built "out of necessity" in a 100-year floodplain. "We ended up raising the site by six feet to get above the 100-year flood elevation by a good amount," Cahill said, "all in preparation for that storm event, which we hope won't come [but] we're trying to prepare appropriately for."

The online tool asks for a series of inputs, including the project's location, cost, purpose and expected useful lifetime. It also asks about previous flooding at the site, whether trees will be removed and other questions that lend context to the project plan.

The tool then incorporates the state's most updated climate data to assess the potential climate change-related risks of the project and to make recommendations for ways the project design could be changed to improve the site's resilience.

Late last month, Theoharides told state budget writers that the administration's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program has now enrolled 89% of all municipalities but will not be able to keep up with the funding necessary to address climate adaptation. For the most recent round, the program got $45 million worth of requests and had just $10.45 million to allocate.

"Our MVP program has been incredibly successful, but the current funding mechanism is simply not enough," Theoharides told the Joint Ways and Means Committee. "Cities and towns across Massachusetts are in dire need of funding and assistance to protect their residents from the impacts of climate change."

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