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Nantucket Releases Draft Climate Resilience Plan

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Nantucket Coastal Resilience Plan
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A map from the Nantucket Coastal Resilience Plan report.

The town of Nantucket is calling for 40 coastal resilience projects to reduce risks from flooding, erosion, and storm surge that pose a threat by the end of the decade to more than 1,000 homes, businesses, and buildings on the island.

In a draft report of the long-awaited coastal resilience plan, the town’s consultant said islanders should elevate several roads and the pier for Steamboat Wharf, invest in dune restoration mostly across the south shore of the island, and relocate roads and infrastructure further inland, particularly in Madaket and Sconset.

The plan is focused on areas with a high population density, critical and at-risk infrastructure, and high cultural value: “Madaket, North Shore, South Shore, Sconset, Coatue, Nantucket Harbor, and then downtown and Brant Point,” said project manager Trevor Johnson, with the consulting group Arcadis, during a Tuesday meeting about the report.

Among the most at-risk community facilities are Steamboat Wharf, Straight Wharf, National Grid Electrical Substation, Coast Guard station at Brandt Point, and the downtown Stop & Shop. In the next six months, the town wants to work on Madaket Road raising and bridge conversion, and increased resilience at the landfill, among other ongoing projects. It also hopes to allocate local funds to study island-wide sediment management approaches.

In the longer term, the report calls for raised roadways, raised bulkheads, reinforced dunes, and flood walls in the Downtown neighborhood, and plans to limit growth in high-risk areas through zoning.

“We have a lot of work to do in the next 10 years, and getting many started in the next three-to-four years is gonna be really important,” Johnson said. “So we want to make sure we have a detailed roadmap for how that can happen.”

According to the report, by the end of the decade, 1,051 structures, or 8 percent of all homes or buildings on the island, could be subject to coastal flooding during major storm events. In that same period, public roadways leading to the Steamboat Wharf could experience a frequent loss of service at monthly high tide. Twenty years after that, without structural changes, the Steamboat Wharf would be completely cut off from surrounding roadways at monthly high tide, according to the report.

In total, by 2070, damage to more than 2,300 homes and buildings from erosion and flooding could cost $3.4 billion. Of those at-risk buildings, 84 percent are residential.

“Obviously, $3.4 billion of risk is significant and poses an existential risk to the community,” Johnson said, “but it also means that there is more potential benefit to take action for the reduction of flood risk.”

The town and consultant are in the process of developing cost estimates for recommended solutions. But island-wide resilience can’t be achieved on public land alone, according to the report. The town is encouraging homeowners to start planning for the worst climate change impacts. Among the recommendations: purchase and maintain flood insurance, install a sump pump to protect against basement flooding, and invest in storm shutters.

Joanna Roche, a member of the Coastal Resilience Action Committee (CRAC), said all these plans to protect the island against climate change are essential.

“If water level rise on Washington Street goes four to nine inches by 2030, 35 to 50 days a year that street will be impassible,” she said during the Tuesday meeting. “What that means for residents is that if that happens the Stop & Shop food truck doesn’t get to Stop & Shop and the gasoline doesn’t get to the gas stations. And that is an impact that we will have to deal with.”

The town's resilience committee will meet again next Tuesday at 10 a.m. to hear public comments on the draft plan. Town officials have said they’re concerned about getting the word out.

“If we can’t convince the taxpayers,” warned CRAC member Ian Golding, “then the one sentence would be that the island might as well bend over and kiss its ass goodbye.”

“I hope that isn’t too crude for a public meeting,” he concluded.

The final plan is expected to be ready as soon as mid-October.