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June 27, 2012

Study: Sea rising faster here than elsewhere

(Continued)

And next month, new flood insurance maps will go into effect that greatly extend the zones in which severe coastal flooding may occur. Most homes on Plum Island and Salisbury Beach will now be located in these zones, which will require them to purchase federal flood insurance if the home has a bank mortgage on it.

But there is no comprehensive plan in place to handle rising sea levels, at least not yet.

That’s not unexpected or unreasonable, said Martin Pillsbury, director of environmental planning at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

“Most communities don’t have the chance to dig in and take stock of this because they are more focused on the short term, the budget crunches and all of the other things you have to get done on a local level,” Pillsbury said. “There are so many short-term problems and pressures that if you can put it on the back burner, that’s what will happen.”

About a month ago, the planning council received authorization to use $80,000 from a federal grant to develop what it calls the Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. The purpose is to help communities figure out what they can and should be doing to prepare for the changing environment and rising seas.

“We frame the issue through the concept of resiliency: What can you do to become more resilient to the impacts?” Pillsbury said.

Part of the program will be to conduct a vulnerability assessment using existing data to determine more specific implications of higher sea levels and climate change for eastern Massachusetts. The MAPC will also research best practices and policies from cities such as Boston and New York City — which are further along in preparing for higher sea levels — and adapting them to fit smaller communities on the North Shore.

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