Boston mayor calls on city to prepare for climate change

BOSTON Tue Feb 5, 2013 2:54pm EST

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino addresses delegates during the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino addresses delegates during the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

BOSTON (Reuters) - In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which brought historic flooding to the greater New York area, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said on Tuesday his coastal city will step up efforts to prepare for the effects of rising sea levels

Boston was spared the catastrophic damage that Sandy brought to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which ultimately caused an estimated $25 billion in insured losses up and down the East Coast of the United States.

But that was a quirk of the tide - Boston Harbor was close to its ebb when the storm arrived.

"Had Sandy hit Boston during high tide our city would have experienced a 100-year flood event," which could have left more than 6 percent of its land area, including parts of all coastal neighborhoods, under water, Menino told reporters. "Today I'm directing my climate team to take a set of actions to be sure that Boston is as ready as possible for a storm like Sandy."

The city's 100-year storm model anticipates a 5-foot (1.5 meter) storm surge at high tide.

The risks could rise over the coming century if climate change leads to higher sea levels as many scientists forecast. A report by the Boston Harbor Association released on Tuesday estimated that with a 2 1/2-foot (0.76 meter) rise in sea levels, a 100-year storm could flood more than 30 percent of the city, including its airport and major convention centers.

Menino called on city agencies, as well as landlords of low-lying properties, to assess what parts of city infrastructure, including its subway system, would be most at risk from flooding.

The city has not yet determined what if any changes it would make to its laws or zoning codes to address the risks of flooding.

"We're at the beginning of a process to explore all types of policy options," said Brian Swett, the city's chief of environment and energy. "Obviously you want to begin with the voluntary options."

(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Maureen Bavdek)