Winthrop Works for Resiliency:Town and Residents Taking Steps to Prep for Future Natural Disasters

Friday, April 13, 2018
By Sue Ellen Woodcock

Climate change and how its impact is going to be dealt with was on the minds of 60 concerned Winthrop residents and officials last Friday as they attended a day-long workshop on building resiliency.

With the four-major winter storms this year, most involving astronomical high-tides, flooding and erosion are big concerns for officials and property owners.

Part of the workshop, which was held in the MWRA conference room on Deer Island, involved identifying challenges and goals. Participants heard from the town’s engineering firm Woodward and Curran, Mass. Audubon and the Nature Conservancy. Natural hazards, vulnerabilities and strengths were also discussed.

Groups worked together to outline vulnerabilities and other areas that will be compiled in a final report. Discussions around flooding brought up the issue and expense of raising the utilities in a building to a higher floor. Other concerns were for sea-level rise, heat waves and fires.

“All of this will culminate to a report to help the town,” explained Mary McCram of Woodward and Curran. “This workshop is just a step in the process.”

The Department of Public Works director said drainage is a big issue; water and sewer systems (mostly with aging original pipes) too are a concern.

“Water can’t drain if there’s no place for it to go,” said Dawn Quirk, a member of the Airport Hazards committee. “I think much of it goes through the marsh land, that’s just how the ocean works. I hope with this process we can think about where the water goes.”

Harbormaster Larry Powers said another concern from a safety perspective is the fact that there are only two ways in and out of Winthrop, and in big storms or flooding one route gets shut down.

“The water gets closer and closer to the Belle Isle Bridge with every storm. We could be completely cut off and that is extremely dangerous,” he said.

“In this day and age we should be able to have a modern-day approach to a seaside town when it comes to infrastructure,” said resident Dottie D’Orfrono.

“Winthrop has a problem because we are a coastal community. We have 18,000 people. The other 351 towns don’t care about Winthrop,” said Council Vice President Phil Boncore. “We have a fire engine that responded (during flooding) and now we can’t use it. Where’s the money coming from? We don’t have it. We can’t raise the taxes. If we can’t get the federal or state grants, then we are up a creek.”

Fire Chief Paul Flanagan said the DCR work done on Winthrop Shore Beach has been good and provides access to Point Shirley from the oceanside.

“It’s not beautiful, but it has served its purpose in being a protective factor,” Flanagan said. “This town has been fighting flooding since its inception.”

After putting in the hours, the town of Winthrop will now be able to qualify to apply for MVP (municipal vulnerability preparedness) status. With this step the town will be able to get extra points when applying for grants. These grants are also only available to cities and towns with MVP status.

The MVP grant program provides support for cities and towns in Massachusetts to begin the process of planning for climate change resiliency and implementing priority projects. The state awards communities funding to complete vulnerability assessments and develop action-oriented resiliency plans. Communities who complete the MVP program become certified as an MVP community and are eligible for MVP Action grant funding and other opportunities.

In 2017 the Baker-Polito administration announced over $1 million in grant funding to 71 cities and towns. Winthrop did not receive any MVP Action grant in 2017. This workshop was the first step in qualifying for an MVP Action grant.

Woodward and Curran will prepare a report with the town and the state office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

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