Facing Coastal Change: Massachusetts "One of Most Forward-Looking" States

Sep 25, 2017

Between Harvey, Irma, and Maria, hurricanes have left hundreds of thousands of people in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean with a gut-wrenching choice: rebuild, or relocate? It’s a question that some Massachusetts towns and property owners face on a regular – if less dramatic – basis.

Plum Island, Salisbury, Hull, Scituate, Sandwich, Falmouth, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard … the list goes on. All have seen damage to roads or buildings in the last ten years. Some, repeatedly. And Rob Thieler, director of the U.S. Geological Survey's Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, says this is an issue that every single coastal town in Massachusetts is or will face, at some point.

Many experts say it’s time to start retreating from coastlines facing rising seas and increasingly extreme weather. Theiler agrees that it's time to start those discussions. But, he cautions that it should be a thoughtful process, with input from scientific experts and the public.

Even once a decision is reached, Theiler says it's not as simple as just ripping out roads or seawalls and letting nature take its course. Instead, he compares it to multi-year, phased dam removal projects.

Takeaway: this is complicated, and it's going to take time. So, better get started sooner rather than later.

On the bright side, Thieler says Massachusetts is wrestling with this issue and is, in his estimation, "one of the most forward-looking states ... in looking at the coast holistically."

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