Coastal Resilience Plan: town to vote in Spring

Benton Killion, Assistant Finance Director

The Nantucket Coastal Resilience Plan (CRP) is a resiliency plan for Nantucket, aiming to help limit the effects of climate change on the island and ensure the safety of the people living on the island. It is the current long-term plan for the entire island, and it outlines projects for the next 10+ years.  

The creators of the CRP, the Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee, a board put together by the Town of Nantucket, analyzed risks to infrastructure, historic locations, businesses, homes, and natural resources to propose specific changes that will help reduce long-term risks and negative impacts on the island’s different locations.

Some of these improvements will have a large impact on our island’s infrastructure.  For example, one project is to better protect the harbor to reduce the impacts of storm surges. This will limit the amount of flooding in the stores downtown and reduce the risks of water damage in the residential districts of the area. Natural Resources Department Coastal Resilience Coordinator Vince Murphy, who led the CRAP, commented that “impact can be positive and negative.  For the most part, all the impacts will be positive and reduce the negative effect of sea-level rise and coastal flooding.”  

These plans to protect the island of course aren’t cheap, however, Murphy explained that “sea level rise and constant economic losses from coastal flooding are more devastating in the longer term, to the tune of $3.4 billion. If all the plans were implemented the total cost would be around $930 million at the high end,” and even though this is still a lot of money, he comments that this “does not mean the Nantucket taxpayer will be on the hook for $930 million. There are many trillions of dollars in federal and state grants that are available to pay for the majority of these project costs. We also have local philanthropic organizations that are willing to chip in and reduce costs, or just outrightly pay for projects.” The planning also overestimates costs to stay on the safe side, so in all likelihood, the actual cost will be lower than 930 million.

Because of substantial donations from organizations and the government, we won’t be feeling the full weight of these extensive projects; however, if these were not implemented, everyone would be responsible for their own property damage as well as damage to infrastructure.  Once this is considered, it will be substantially less money to implement the projects outlined in the plan.

Many Nantucketers are concerned about potential changes or damages to the coastline and downtown historic district as these draw many tourists to the island, driving the vacation destination based economy. Murphy assured the public that there will be “no permanent damage” and gave this as the reason for taking “planning so seriously and modeling to understand how to avoid damage.”  Of course, as the projects are implemented, serious construction will need to be done to ensure the safety and effectiveness of each enterprise. This will likely mean more traffic and a greater overall inconvenience. To many who love the island, these minor inconveniences are a small price to pay to still be able to go to Madaket in 50 years.

Because the CRP is an island-wide plan, every part of the island was considered by the creators of the document and weighed based on parameters such as population density, the potential for loss, and the density of essential infrastructure.  Densely populated areas like downtown Nantucket with many buildings and historical sites will be prioritized over less populated, remote areas.  Murphy commented that “areas like Madaket also have specific needs, and one of the main projects is to raise the roads at First and Second bridges as that is the only access road they have, and we don’t want the whole west end of the island cut off in a severe coastal storm or over time as sea levels rise.”  

Some projects need immediate attention, though Murphy adds that “most of the projects are time-sensitive in some way or another . . . For the projects that have a construction element, the CRP outlines when they might need to be constructed by, in order to reduce the negative impacts of sea-level rise. For policy projects, they too are needed to start planning communities in a more sustainable way and move out of flood zones and into safer zones.”

Unfortunately, given the island’s geological history, we face the threat of flooding and erosion. Murphy explained that because parts of the island is glacial moraines or old dune fields, which are constructed of snd and other loosely consolidated materials, erosion occurs more quickly in these areas than in others: “it erodes very much faster than an area like coastal Maine which is exposed to hard bedrock that erodes quite slowly by comparison. We lose shoreline in some places as much as 12 feet per year.  Places with granite shorelines can be as low as tenths of an inch per year.”  This means that, while the threat of frequent floods downtown is important, we must also remember the risks the ocean provides to the approximately 90 miles of coastline surrounding our home.

Murphy noted that protecting an island is more difficult than simply defending a peninsula or single coastline, because we have so many low-lying areas peppering our coastline, and even inland, because on Nantucket, you cannot really go far inland.

While drafting the plan, Murphy said he “used all of those as examples for what our CRP should look like,” however there was “a relatively small number to choose from.” According to Murphy, “Most coastal locations do not have CRPs.”  Unfortunately, most cities and municipalities which have undertaken the task of creating their own CRPs are medium to large communities such as New York City, Boston, and now Nantucket, though “smaller-sized communities have also done CRP-type documents in Connecticut and Massachusetts.”

Other organizations across the country have also been promoting coastal resiliency.  One organization, Coastal Resilience, is working on projects across the world from Australia to the Caribbean and Indonesia.  This organization however tries to attack the issues more naturally by implementing “nature-based risk reduction solutions” such as promoting the growth of coral on coastlines.

Finally, Murphy wanted to impress upon everyone the importance of “reduc[ing] carbon emissions; that’s the cause of the overarching problem which is climate change. Find out what projects need to be undertaken, and find ways to have your voice heard or to support or oppose projects as you see fit. Read the Coastal Resilience Plan. Read the Select Boards Master Plan. Attend Coastal Resilient Advisory Committee meeting. Attend Select Board Meetings. Also, attend Planning Board and Conservation Commission meetings. Make comments, and be heard. These are the meetings where decisions are made and there are no age restrictions on attending or speaking in public comment sections. Be part of the process.”

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