Costs of Boston Barrier Strategy Would Outweigh Benefits, Study Says

Image source: umb.edu

As the City of Boston advances solutions to protect neighborhoods from climate change-induced flooding, a new independent report released earlier this week by the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston advises against pursuing a harbor barrier in coming decades as part of larger resilience efforts.

According to the University of Massachusetts Boston’s latest announcement, the analysis found a barrier strategy to be technically impractical and less effective, dollar for dollar, than continued investment in shore-based coastal protection solutions such as those described in the City’s Climate Ready Boston plans.

The report, Feasibility of Harbor-wide Barrier Systems: Preliminary Analysis for Boston Harbor, was sponsored by the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, a group of business, institutional, and civic leaders working side-by-side with the City of Boston to develop shared strategies for confronting climate change, and funded by the Barr Foundation.

Image source: USACE

Harbor barrier systems have been a helpful tool for certain other coastal cities, but in this case, Boston would be making a bet on a massive infrastructure project with limited benefits compared to the alternative,” said Paul Kirshen, academic director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab, professor of climate adaptation in the School for the Environment, and the report’s lead author.

The more impactful strategy the city can pursue is to stay focused on neighborhood, shore-based resilience, moving quickly and working closely with communities. Local protections can also provide additional public realm advantages that maximize investment and benefit everyone plus provide us the flexibility to adjust to the uncertainties of climate change.”

The researchers tested the feasibility of both inner- (from Logan Airport to the Seaport) and outer- (from Winthrop to Hull) harbor barrier configurations. They studied the technical effectiveness of a barrier over time, the environmental impacts of a barrier, and the cost-benefits of a barrier as compared to shore-based resilience investments.

The analysis found that while a barrier likely wouldn’t pose additional environmental risk to an already-evolving harbor ecosystem, either configuration would face major technical challenges and provide only marginal benefit on top of the immediate shore-based solutions that need to be constructed under any scenario.

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