Report Warns Climate Change Will Cause More Flooding, Erosion On North Shore

In this Feb. 15, 2019, file photo, the Atlantic Ocean surf washes up on the beach outside the window of an oceanfront condo in Salisbury, Massachusetts. (Elise Amendola/AP)
In this Feb. 15, 2019, file photo, the Atlantic Ocean surf washes up on the beach outside the window of an oceanfront condo in Salisbury, Massachusetts. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Increased tidal flooding, beach erosion and aging sea barriers are among the climate change concerns threatening a famous coastal destination in Massachusetts, according to a report released Thursday by a leading conservation group in the state.

The “State of the Coast” report by The Trustees focuses on the threat of rising sea levels and powerful storm surges on the state’s North Shore, which is home to the major fishing port of Gloucester as well as Salem, the site of the notorious, colonial-era witch trials.

The organization, which bills itself as the state’s oldest conservation nonprofit and its largest private coastal landowner, said the region has more than 50 miles of seawalls and other hard coastal barriers that are aging.

It estimates it would cost more than $88 million to repair them, but argues they’re not adequate for the risks posed by climate change.

“Not only are they costly to repair and replace, but these structures can wreak damage of their own on nearby natural shorelines,” the organization said in its report. “More resilient options are necessary for our coastal communities to be prepared for the challenges to come.”

The Trustees report also suggests more than 600 North Shore buildings could experience daily tidal flooding by 2030, and more than 7,000 will be in the same category if a 100-year-storm event occurs.

That, the organization said, puts some $100 billion worth of coastal real estate in Essex County at risk, based on a flood risk model developed by the Woods Hole Group, a Bourne-based environmental consultancy firm.

The Trustees’ report calls for a “regional land protection strategy” to reduce the impact from coastal real estate development. It said only about a quarter of the region’s coastal habitats are permanently protected from development.

Some of the region’s most popular beaches have also seen a dramatic loss in shoreline over the decades, according to the organization.

Crane Beach in Ipswich, which is owned by the Trustees, has lost the equivalent of 84 football fields of sand since the 1950s due to erosion, the report said.

The organization said expanding efforts to restore beaches and sand dunes, which has been done in a number of North Shore communities, is one short term solution. It also said it is working with Ipswich officials to raise the height of the road leading to Crane Beach in order to preserve public access, among other resiliency efforts.

National studies have also highlighted the climate change threats facing the region, which stretches from north of Boston up the Atlantic coast to New Hampshire.

Last year, a nationwide study by the First Street Foundation singled out Salisbury as the community in Massachusetts where climate change concerns are most impacting property values.

The New York-based nonprofit suggested coastal homes in the popular beach community would be worth $200,000 to $300,000 more if not for more frequent tidal flooding and increasingly damaging coastal storms.

The Trustees said it plans to release a report annually for the next four years examining a different Massachusetts coastal region in order to highlight the threat and possible solutions to climate change.

The report released Thursday covers 13 North Shore communities: Swampscott, Marblehead, Salem, Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Gloucester, Essex, Ipswich, Newbury, Rowley, Newburyport, and Salisbury.



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