Rising tides in Fort Point

The Fort Point waterfront by night. Photo by Lexi Peery / BU News Service

By Lexi Peery
BU News Service

BOSTON — Videos of water streaming down stairs to underground T stations and waves moving dumpsters along streets dotted social media during last year’s winter in Boston. Fort Point resident Sara McCammond saw some of this flooding firsthand.

McCammond experienced this flooding, not just on the streets of her South Boston neighborhood but in her own building. In her and her husband’s live/work artist studio apartment at 15 Channel Center St., the basement and lower levels of her apartment flooded. The water damaged some materials artists stored in the building.

“It was pretty incredible to see water coming up, almost fountaining through drain pipes,” McCammond said. “We were really impacted by the storm water back surge coming through the drain, sewer system. Now that we have a floodgate installed to capture that water, I’ll be interested to see how that solves things [this year]. It should.”

McCammond said thankfully she didn’t have to throw out any of her personal belongings because of water damage. She’s on the fourth floor of her apartment.

Similar to other, newer buildings in the area, the utilities are stored on the roof of McCammond’s building. Utilities are normally found in the basements of older buildings. Moving utilities higher up is more common in newer buildings in South Boston, according to McCammond. Some older buildings are beginning to be renovated to fit utilities on higher floors to protect from flooding.

Rebecca Herst is the director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at the University of Massachusetts Boston. At the lab, Herst focuses on how climate change affects people of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Buildings constructed with flood precautionary measures in mind fare much better when the water rises, Herst explained. When the first floors of buildings are made of concrete and metal – as opposed to dry wall – the ground floor can sustain flooding without major damages.

“There are things we can do proactively when we’re building new buildings and also things we can do to retro fit buildings,” Herst said. “One of the challenges is that a lot of times retro fits are really expensive.”

Apartment owners and landlords often have problems paying for such expensive retro fitting projects, Herst said. This leaves large, multi-family buildings in a vulnerable position. Herst is looking into how cutting off flood pathways and other preventative flooding measures can help a whole neighborhood avoid the problems of flooding.

“So, it isn’t the responsibility of an individual building owner to keep their building safe,” Herst said.

Sarah McCammond in front of the Fort Point channel. Photo by Lexi Peery / BU News Service

McCammond moved to Fort Point in 2010 and has been involved with the community ever since. She’s now the president of the Fort Point Neighborhood Alliance. The group invites speakers from fields of government and research to inform members about topics that impact the neighborhood. One of the biggest issues they talk about is the effects of climate change on the neighborhood.

According to the City of Boston website, McCammond’s neighborhood is one of the most flood-susceptible locations in the area. But it’s taken time for Fort Point residents to notice.

McCammond said real-life experiences force residents to pay attention to what’s going on in the area.

“Before the January and March storms, [climate change] wouldn’t be on the minds of residents that much,” McCammond said. “But as a result of those storms, the residents have become concerned of how their neighborhood is going to be protected. … It is a much bigger issue.”

In a report published by the University of Massachusetts Sustainable Solutions Lab, the authors — which include Herst — encourage the City and Commonwealth to take action. City planning plays an instrumental role in climate change mitigation.

And the City knows that. Climate Ready Boston, first introduced in 2016, prepares residents for the effects of climate change. The report Herst worked on states the initiative doesn’t set clear enough strategies for implementing climate resilient policies.

“Climate Ready Boston sets the table, and sets us up for what needs to happen next,” Herst said. “But if we don’t figure out the governance mechanisms and the financing levers to pull to actually do these projects we won’t be able to be resilient a city or as a region.”

McCammond said she can’t see increased flooding change the perceptions of people living in the historic, waterfront neighborhood.

“Nobody is going to get up and leave Fort Point. Nobody is going to get up and leave the Seaport. And so, what we have to do is adapt,” she said with a laugh.

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