Plan To Save Washington Street From Sea Level Rise Brings Select Board, Land Bank To The Table

JohnCarl McGrady •

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The Land Bank presented a tentative plan for an extensive long-term coastal resilience project along Washington Street to the Select Board Monday. The two boards agreed to form a joint planning committee to move the project forward and discuss the details of a cost-sharing agreement that would divide expenses between the Land Bank and the town.

“The work is really impressive, and to me, it’s really exciting,” Select Board vice chair Brooke Mohr said.

The project, a sweeping reimagining of the entire waterfront area that could take decades to complete, is part of a broader push by the town and affiliated groups to address sea level rise and increase what is commonly known as coastal resilience. Since the completion of the Coastal Resilience Plan, efforts to prepare the island for rising seas have intensified, leading to a series of programs spanning the island that the Washington Street project will have to compete with for funding and personnel.

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“We do have a lot of competing projects,” Town Manager Libby Gibson said. “We currently have kind of a deficit of project management capacity, so we have to take that into consideration. And this project is obviously going to be long-term. There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved and designed and figured out, and there’s going to be policy decisions and determinations to be made along the way. And it’s already starting to encompass kind of a larger than maybe initially expected scope.”

But the reception from the Select Board was broadly positive, with members agreeing on the importance of addressing coastal resilience along Washington Street, a priority in the Coastal Resilience Plan.

In recent years, the Land Bank has been acquiring numerous properties along Washington Street, and now owns 14 parcels from Petrel Landing along Commercial Wharf, to the small pocket part at 50 Union Street. Sources told the Current that another property along Washington Street is also set to sell to the Land Bank before the end of the year.

Details of the project are far from finalized, but proposals include the installation of an elevated coastal barrier along a large portion of Washington Street to protect against flood water, the construction of a multi-use path near the barrier, and the creation of accessible waterfront areas on the beach below. Consultants hired by the Land Bank also suggested expanding stormwater wetlands and salt marshes, including on the inland side of the road, to better manage stormwater runoff. Without the project, they warned, the road could soon become unusable, and by 2050, large sections would be underwater regularly.

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The first phase will center on the intersection of Washington Street and Francis Street. It will involve the construction of an elevated barrier along the shore, an accessible path for transport, and a stormwater wetland on the inland side of the road. Select Board Chair Dawn Hill Holdgate confirmed that the Salt Marsh Senior Center will have to be moved soon, freeing up that parcel for the project as well.

The details of the cost-sharing arrangement have yet to be determined, but the Select Board agreed unanimously that the Town should pay for some portion. No one was eager to share cost estimates during the meeting.

“Right now, we could start throwing out numbers that would scare everyone in this room, but that wouldn’t be productive,” Land Bank chair Neil Paterson said.

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