Senior Counselor, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF)
It’s no news that Boston will likely face unprecedented environmental and public health threats associated with climate change. We know that sea levels will rise significantly. Even before rising sea levels start to threaten the Massachusetts coastline, we know that there is a high probability that the waterfront will see record storm surges. And we know that Boston is ranked as the sixth most vulnerable city in the nation for environmental damages associated with climate change.
Developers have proposed a large-scale luxury hotel complex out over the water at the end of Lewis Wharf in Boston’s North End—right in the center of the projected storm surge bull’s-eye. The complex will itself be significantly at risk to flooding and storm damage but also will be one likely to exacerbate risks of damage to existing properties and neighborhoods. The area already floods, and this project would increase flooding—not stop flooding.
While it is one thing for a developer to put its own capital, customers, and employees at risk by constructing in an unsound location, it is completely another matter if there is even a risk that the development would increase the severity or frequency of storm-related or climate change-related effects to others.
For many in the immediate vicinity and the North End, this is personal. But this is not merely a local development fight. For us at Conservation Law Foundation, this comes down to whether the City of Boston and the state are committed to taking real action to increase resiliency of the waterfront to climate change or whether it will be business as usual. Developers should not be allowed to build in high-risk flooding areas in the city; and development of present or former state tidelands should several the broadest public interests, not cater to private interests.
Increasingly intense and frequent storms surges and sea level rise are the new normal. The Lewis Wharf project and any other new waterfront development around Boston Harbor will define how seriously Massachusetts and the City of Boston intend to address and mitigate those coming threats. The proposed luxury hotel complex is not the right approach; it is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with this project.