Area Officials Applaud Increase in Climate Resilience Funding

Cities and towns involved in the Resilient Mystic Collaborative applauded the doubling of annual funds for the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Grant Program to $21 million in the Baker Administration’s FY2022 Capital Plan. 

“Chelsea has already suffered through two debilitating heat waves and a dozen days over 90 F even before July 1st,” said Alex Train, Director of Housing and Community Development. “Our same residents who suffered disproportionately through COVID are now at risk from heat-related illnesses.  We need to upgrade our infrastructure and services for the summer of 2050, not 1950.” 

In the latest MVP grant round, the Commonwealth received 92 applications requesting a total of $28 million for action grants out of $10 million available.  “Extreme heat, storms, drought, and flooding are no longer a thing of the future.  Climate resilience needs to become a core government function, just like schools and roads,” said Julie Wormser, deputy director of the Mystic River Watershed Association.    “This funding increase is a critical down payment.”  Below are some of the projects in Greater Boston’s Mystic Watershed seeking MVP funding this year.

“Twelve municipalities depend on the Charles River and Amelia Earhart Dams to prevent catastrophic coastal flooding of residential neighborhoods and businesses,” said Owen O’ Riordan, Commissioner of Cambridge’s Department of Public Works.  “It is of critical importance that these dams and portions of our shoreline be elevated to ensure we protect tens of thousands of people and billions in property from harm.  We could use every penny in the MVP program over the next decade just to solve this one issue.”

“Belle Isle Marsh is by far the largest remaining salt marsh in Boston Harbor providing a crucial buffer for flooding to neighboring communities and critical habitat for over 250 bird species, mammals and marine animals, said Mary Mitchell, president of Friends of Belle Isle Marsh. “Funding for restoration projects and nature-based resiliency projects within the marsh is needed now to best protect against climate change and sea level rise.”

“One of Winthrop’s most valuable resources is Ingleside Park, a vast green space enjoyed by the entire Town,” said Rachel Kelly, Director of Planning and Development. The Park floods after heavy rains and snowmelt. Winthrop would greatly benefit from additional MVP funding to mitigate flooding with improved drainage and green infrastructure.”

The Resilient Mystic Collaborative includes 20 of 21 communities (Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Burlington, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lexington, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Reading, Revere, Somerville, Stoneham, Wakefield, Watertown, Winchester, Winthrop, and Woburn) and over 98 percent of the population and land base in the Mystic River Watershed. Together, RMC municipalities represent one percent of the state’s land base and 10 percent of its population.  The partnership focuses on fresh water and coastal flooding, and protecting vulnerable residents and workers from extreme weather, including heat.

“The Resilient Mystic Collaborative and MVP Program has brought together cities and towns in ways that we could not foresee,” said Alex Rozycki, senior civil engineer for the Town of Reading. “As these communities continue to work together and evaluate shared MVP grant possibilities the scope and breadth of these complex projects quickly expands as well. Regional MVP funding is supporting a revitalized trail system and green stormwater treatment systems to increase storage and water quality in Reading, which provides similar benefits to downstream communities. The estimated cost to complete this project alone is over two million dollars.”

“Climate change is bringing intense rainfall that overwhelms our aging stormwater systems with increased frequency,” said Elena Proakis Ellis, Melrose Director of Public Works. “We are working with 16 other communities to manage local and regional flooding through expanded wetlands and other nature-based solutions. With enough small projects combined, we can make a real difference in our region. These projects are too costly for communities like Melrose to afford with local funding alone, however. This work is essential to the region and brings other habitat and social benefits along the way.”

“The industrial district that spans Chelsea and Everett provides thousands of good-paying jobs and billions in annual economic activity,” said Chelsea’s Alex Train. “It was unfortunately also built by filling in the Island End River, which is now chronically flooding during heavy storms.  The price tag for protecting this area from flooding over the next fifty years is north of $50 million.”

Mystic River Watershed at a Glance

The 76-square-mile Mystic River Watershed stretches from Reading through the northern shoreline of Boston Harbor to Revere.  An Anglicized version of the Pequot word missi-tuk (“large river with wind- and tide-driven waves”), it is now one of New England’s most densely populated, urbanized watersheds.

The seven-mile Mystic River and its tributaries represented an early economic engine for colonial Boston.  Ten shipyards built more than 500 clipper ships in the 1800s before roads and railways replaced schooners and steamships.  Tide-driven mills, brickyards and tanneries along both banks of the river brought both wealth and pollution.

In the 1960s, the Amelia Earhart Dam transformed much of the river into a freshwater impoundment, while construction of Interstate 93 filled in wetlands and dramatically changed the river’s course. Since then, many former industrial sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped into new commercial areas and residential communities. 

The Mystic is facing growing climate-related challenges: coastal and stormwater flooding, extreme storms, heat, drought and unpredictable seasonal weather.  The watershed is relatively low-lying and extensively developed, making it prone to both freshwater and coastal flooding.  Its 21 municipalities are home to a half-million residents, including many who are disproportionately vulnerable to extreme weather: environmental justice communities, new Americans, residents of color, elders, low-income residents and employees, people living with disabilities and English-language learners. 

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