State of the Beach/State Reports/MA/Erosion Response

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Massachusetts Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access83
Water Quality75
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-8
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures9 3
Beach Ecology6-
Surfing Areas25
Website9-


Introduction

Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.


For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and if the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Massachusetts's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.


Policies and Guidance

Massachusetts does not require a specific coastal setback policy, although coastal erosion rates and the function of the resource areas are considered. Some municipalities have established setback policies for their communities.

The Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) Program was established in 1975, when the state legislature authorized and directed the Secretary of Environmental Affairs to identify and designate "areas of critical environmental concern to the Commonwealth" and to develop policies for their acquisition, protection, and use. Since that time 30 ACECs covering approximately 268,000 acres have been designated, from the Berkshires to the North Shore to Cape Cod. The Environmental Affairs Secretary has delegated the administration of the ACEC Program to the Department of Environmental Management (DCR). DCR coordinates very closely with the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Office regarding coastal ACECs (CZM administered the coastal ACEC program until 1993). The principal state agencies with regulations that refer to ACECs are the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the CZM Office.

The MEPA Regulations (301 CMR 11.00) require closer scrutiny or review of projects within ACECs that need certain state permits, use state funding, or involve state agency actions. The project review thresholds (size or type) that require the filing of an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) are reduced for projects located within an ACEC. For example, a state highway access permit, a Waterways Chapter 91 license, or a request to DEP for an appeal (i.e., a Superseding Order of Conditions) of a local Conservation Commission decision (i.e., an Order of Conditions) will require the filing of an ENF and initiate a state environmental review, except for a project that consists solely of one single-family dwelling. Outside of an ACEC, these kinds of reviews are generally required only for large-scale projects. Projects using state funding, or projects initiated by state agencies — for example, the Massachusetts Highway Department (such as for highway improvement projects that may affect the resources of an ACEC) or the Department of Environmental Management (for park planning or development) - within an ACEC, also require MEPA reviews. The purpose of a MEPA review for a project within an ACEC is to ensure that the proposed project will avoid or minimize adverse impacts to the resources of the ACEC.

The principal DEP regulations or DEP programs regarding ACECs include the Waterways Regulation Program, the Wetlands Protection Program, and CZM program.

The Waterways (or Chapter 91) Regulations (310 CMR 9.00) require higher environmental standards for certain kinds of projects located within ACECs. The regulations do not allow new fill in ACECs, and place increased limits on new structures (see sections 9.32(1)(e) and 9.32(2)(d)). Proposed new privately owned structures for water-dependent use below the high-water mark, such as private docks or piers, are only eligible for a license provided that such structures are consistent with a resource management plan for the ACEC which has been adopted by the municipality and approved by the Secretary of Environmental Affairs. Improvement (new) dredging, except for the sole purpose of fisheries and wildlife enhancement, is prohibited within an ACEC. (However, maintenance dredging is eligible for a permit.) The disposal of dredged material is prohibited within an ACEC, except for the purposes of beach fill, dune construction or stabilization with proper vegetative cover, or the enhancement of fishery or wildlife resources (see section 9.40(1)(b) regarding dredging or disposal).

The Wetlands Protection Act Regulations (310 CMR 10.00) include provisions regarding ACECs for both coastal and inland wetland Resource Areas. For coastal Resource Areas within ACECs, the performance standard is raised to "no adverse effect" on the interests of the Act, except for maintenance dredging for navigational purposes of "Land Under the Ocean" (see section 10.24(5)(b)). For inland Resource Areas within ACECs, the performance standard is raised to prohibit the destruction or impairment of a "Bordering Vegetated Wetland (BVW)" unless the proposed project qualifies as a "limited project" under the Wetlands Protection Act Regulations (see sections 10.53(3) and 10.55(4)(e)).

The Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Program Regulations (310 CMR 21.00) call for all appropriate EOEA agencies to preserve, restore, and enhance complexes of coastal resources of regional or statewide significance (through the ACEC Program). State and federal coastal zone regulations stipulate that any federal activity affecting the coastal zone will be consistent with CZM's Policies to the maximum extent practicable. As such, any project proposed in an ACEC that requires a federal permit, is federally funded, or is a direct federal action is subject to federal consistency review by MCZM before the federal activity can take place. See Policy Guide and regulations.

In 1980, Executive Order No. 181 was enacted to strengthen the protection of barrier beaches in Massachusetts. This order recognized that: the dynamic nature of the barrier is essential for barrier beaches to provide storm damage prevention and flood control; human-induced changes to barrier beaches can decrease these storm damage prevention and flood control capacities; inappropriate development on barrier beaches results in the loss of lives and property; and future storm damage to development on barrier beaches is inevitable due to sea level rise. In recognition of these factors, the Executive Order discourages further development on barrier beaches by limiting state and federal funding for new support facilities that promote growth, such as sewer and water lines and coastal engineering structures; clarifies state wetland policy for managing the natural characteristics of these areas; gives priority status for relocation assistance to storm damaged barrier beach areas; and encourages public acquisition of barrier beaches for recreational purposes.

Guidelines for Barrier Beach Management in Massachusetts was published by CZM in 1994. This report of the Massachusetts Barrier Beach Task Force was designed as a reference tool for those charged with the responsibility of preparing, reviewing, and implementing barrier beach management plans.

In spite of these efforts, substantial development has occurred on Cape Cod and in other vulnerable coastal areas. This article discusses serious environmental issues, including sewage discharges and erosion, that are threatening Cape Cod now that too much had been built too close to the shore. Climate change is exacerbating these issues.

CZM has developed a South Shore Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlas illustrating shoreline variables to help local officials provide local coastal managers with information that can help with the review of projects that are in areas vulnerable to coastal hazards. The atlas provides information to South Shore decision makers for review of projects on ocean-facing shorelines from Hull through Plymouth to the Cape Cod Canal and features coastal process data sets. As funding permits, EOEA and CZM plan to expand the study area and characterize additional regions along the Massachusetts coastline. In fact, it was a high priority recommendation of the Coastal Hazards Commission (see below) that:

"...the Commonwealth provide funding to the Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) to compile a Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlas for each of the four remaining coastal regions. The average projected cost for each region is $112,500, for a total of $450,000. Based on current storm damage issues, the Atlases should be completed as follows: North Shore, South Coast, Cape Cod and Islands, and Boston Harbor. All of the atlases will be posted online."


Former Governor Romney and the Legislature asked EOEA, through CZM, to launch a Coastal Hazards Commission (CHC) that was charged with reviewing existing coastal hazards practices and policies, identifying data and information gaps, and drafting recommendations for administrative, regulatory, and statutory changes, if deemed necessary. This Commission produced a report that includes a 20-year Coastal Infrastructure and Protection Inventory for the entire Massachusetts coastline, as well as recommendations to improve coastal hazards management coast-wide. The CHC was launched in January 2006, and under the leadership of former Commission Chair, Susan Snow-Cotter, the Final Report and recommendations were published in May 2007.

StormSmart Coasts, which CZM launched in May 2008, is designed to support local efforts to protect people and property in coastal floodplains from erosion and storm damage. The program features an extensive StormSmart Coasts website that includes regulatory tools, case studies, planning strategies, and other technical assistance materials. The central theme of StormSmart Coasts is No Adverse Impact (NAI). First articulated in a 2000 Association of State Floodplain Managers white paper (available at www.floods.org), the NAI approach ensures that the action of any property owner, public or private, does not adversely impact the property and rights of others. Before a project is permitted, land owners are required to mitigate for any potential harm that they may cause to other properties, thereby protecting everyone’s property rights. In its simplest sense, it is a “good neighbor” policy. In addition to reducing storm damage, one of the greatest benefits of following the NAI approach is its legal robustness. While the NAI name is new, the NAI approach was actually founded in ancient Roman law. As StormSmart Coasts documents explain, courts at all levels (and even traditional property-rights organizations) have shown extreme deference towards NAI-type regulations—giving municipalities a solid legal foundation for effective floodplain management. On the StormSmart Coasts website, local officials can find technical assistance in seven areas of floodplain management: hazard identification and mapping; planning; mitigation; infrastructure; regulations and development standards; emergency services; and education and outreach. The site also houses information on NAI and common legal issues in coastal areas, and links to potential funding sources. To help ensure that the Website meets audience needs, CZM will update the Website based on feedback from local officials. StormSmart Coasts targets municipal officials, including staff and members of Planning Boards, Conservation Commissions, Zoning Boards of Appeals, Departments of Public Works, Building/Engineering Departments, Boards of Health, and emergency management planners.

In September 2008 StormSmart Coasts entered Phase Two, implementation through pilot communities. In this phase, CZM will work directly with selected coastal communities to implement StormSmart Coasts floodplain management tools, use this experience to help successfully transfer these tools throughout the remainder of the coastline, and develop a national model for storm-resilient community implementation. In December 2008 CZM chose five pilot projects to kick off the implementation phase of the StormSmart Coasts program. The city of Boston, the towns of Falmouth, Hull, and Oak Bluffs, and the three-town team of Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth were selected to serve as pilots for implementing coastal floodplain and sea level rise management tools and strategies described on the StormSmart Coasts website. The seven cities and towns participating in the five pilot projects have taken significant steps toward addressing coastal storm damage and sea level rise issues in their communities. The team of Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth is conducting outreach programs targeted to homeowners in and near high-hazard zones. These programs outline steps residents can take to ensure personal safety and prevent property loss while potentially reducing flood insurance premiums, resulting in long-term savings. Through this pilot project, a brochure Information on Flood Hazards is now available on the Kingston town website. Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard will present bylaw amendments to town meeting voters in Spring 2010 aiming to minimize the impacts from storms, including property damage, lack of safe access for emergency response, economic costs, public health threats, and loss of public recreational areas. The city of Boston acquired data to inform its sea level rise mapping, which is now in development, and is drafting a “toolbox” of regulatory options to minimize public safety threats and damage to buildings. The town of Falmouth is developing a “Hazard Mitigation Plan” to reduce anticipated risk to its residents, businesses, and municipal services due to expected sea level rise and the potential increase in intensity and frequency of storms. Finally, the town of Hull has created an innovative incentive program to encourage builders to “freeboard,” or elevate existing and new buildings above predicted floodwaters, which could substantially reduce flood insurance costs and decrease damage to homes by storms and flooding. See the StormSmart Coasts website for more information and updates on these and other projects as CZM moves forward with climate change adaptation.

In mid-2009 Massachusetts became a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, which is a place for coastal decision makers to find and share the latest information on protecting communities from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate change.

In 2009 CZM conducted several outreach efforts to introduce coastal communities to climate change and the adaptation strategies to minimize anticipated future impacts. CZM partnered with MAPC and the Massachusetts Bays Program on the forum, North Shore Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Workshop: Is Your Community Prepared?, for communities on the North Shore. Presentations are available on the MAPC website. In May, CZM, Michael Baker Jr., Inc., and the towns of Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury held the lecture No Adverse Impacts: Best Management Practices for Coastal Communities, which introduced the no adverse impact philosophy and explained how communities can implement this improved floodplain management strategy today to prepare for climate change in the future.

In December 2013, CZM launched the StormSmart Properties website with fact sheets for coastal property owners on shoreline stabilization options that effectively reduce erosion and storm damage while minimizing impacts to shoreline systems. The six techniques covered in this first round of fact sheets are: artificial dunes and dune nourishment, controlling overland runoff to reduce coastal erosion, planting vegetation to reduce erosion and storm damage, bioengineering - coir rolls on coastal banks, bioengineering - natural fiber blankets on coastal banks, and sand fencing. In 2014, CZM will add additional fact sheets on topics such as repair/reconstruction of revetments, seawalls, and groins; beach nourishment; elevating and relocating buildings; sand-filled envelopes; salt marsh creation and restoration on coastal beaches; and design standards for new revetments, seawalls, and groins. Here is Who to Contact and What to Do Before Building or Rebuilding.

The 2014 Budget Bill included a section that established a Coastal Erosion Commission. This commission is charged with investigating and documenting the levels and impacts of coastal erosion in the Commonwealth and developing strategies and recommendations to reduce, minimize, or eliminate the magnitude and frequency of coastal erosion and its adverse impacts on property, infrastructure, public safety, and beaches and dunes. Here are the working group tasks. On January 7, 2015 the commission issued its draft report for a 90-day public review and comment. See the January 2015 DRAFT Report and Recommendations of the Coastal Erosion Commission web page for commenting instructions and to download a copy of the report.

In a ruling issued on July 26, 2005 in the case of Gove v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Chatham, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the authority of a local government to bar residential construction in a flood-prone area, and ruled that the community does not have to compensate the owner for being unable to build a home on the seaside property. There is now an informative Case Study document on this ruling.

A draft Buzzards Bay Action Plan: Planning For A Shifting Shoreline and Coastal Storms has been produced. The goals of this document are:

  • Goal 1 - Protect public health and safety from problems associated with coastal hazards including rising sea level, shifting shorelines, and damage from storms and storm surge.
  • Goal 2 - Reduce the public financial burden caused by the destruction of or damage to coastal property.
  • Goal 3 - Plan for shifting shorelines and the inland migration of buffering wetlands and shifting sand formations, and the species that utilize these habitats.


Although accurate digital flood maps are not yet available in Massachusetts to facilitate an analysis of how many housing units are within the "V-zone," FEMA has produced digital flood insurance rate maps for some communities, including Scituate, Marshfield, Duxbury, and Plymouth.

Many coastal communities in Massachusetts have bylaws and regulations that restrict or prohibit building in flood zones or coastal hazard zones. An example is the Town of Scituate which has published Wetlands Protection Rules and Regulations which define V-zones and place restrictions on building activities within those zones.

Several model bylaws have been prepared by the Cape Cod Commission for use by the Cape's fifteen towns. The models were prepared to assist the Cape towns adopt regulations covering a wide variety of topics and avoid each town "reinventing" a proven approach to land use management.

"McMansions" have begun to spring up in certain areas within the Cape Cod National Seashore. One homeowner in Wellfleet wants to demolish a 2,555-square-foot home and build a 5,347-square foot, two-story home. A homeowner on Bound Brook Island has an approved septic system plan for a 10-bedroom house. In Wellfleet alone, there are 18 lots where the owner could build a 10,000-square foot foundation under current zoning standards. George Price, superintendent of Cape Cod National Seashore, sees these large houses as threats to the character of the park and has campaigned for Wellfleet and Truro to change their zoning bylaws. At a special Wellfleet town meeting in October 2008 voters limited new construction and exterior renovations of residences to 3,600 square feet of living space per lot, which can comprise more than one building. The total living space for a single family house is 2,800 square feet. In February 2009 Wellfleet officials received a letter from state Attorney General Martha Coakley approving the two zoning amendments that limit house sizes but allow residents to apply for exceptions.

Two lighthouses, Highland Lighthouse (commonly known as the Cape Cod Light) in North Truro and Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham, Cape Cod were moved back from eroding shorelines in 1996.

Coastal Dune Protection and Restoration Using ‘Cape’ American Beachgrass & Fencing is a Sea Grant publication that addresses restoration of frontal coastal sand dune systems with sand fencing and ‘Cape’ American beachgrass.

Massachusetts Homeowner's Handbook to Prepare for Coastal Hazards is a 2013 Sea Grant publication.

CZM released Sea Level Rise: Understanding and Applying Trends and Future Scenarios for Analysis and Planning (PDF, 3.2 MB) in December 2013, a guidance document to help coastal communities and others plan for and address potential sea level rise effects on residential and commercial development, infrastructure and critical facilities, and natural resources and ecosystems. The document includes background information on local and global sea level rise trends, summarizes the best available sea level rise projections, and provides general guidance in the selection and application of sea level rise scenarios for coastal vulnerability assessments, planning, and decision making for areas that may be at present or future risk from the effects of sea level rise. The document is intended to be updated as new science and information becomes available.

On May 13, 2015 on behalf of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), CZM announced the availability of funding through two grant programs that support local efforts to address the effects of coastal storms, flooding, erosion, and sea level rise. The Coastal Community Resilience Grant Program will provide up to $1.5 million in grants and technical resources to coastal communities to advance innovative local efforts addressing climate change and sea level rise impacts. The funds will finance initiatives to increase awareness of these issues, assess vulnerability and risk, and implement measures to respond, recover, and adapt to coastal impacts. The Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience Grant Program will provide up to $1.5 million in funding and technical resources to coastal communities and eligible nonprofit organizations for natural approaches addressing coastal erosion and flooding problems. Starting in 2016, CZM anticipates combining these grants into the Coastal Resilience Grant Program. Administered through CZM’s StormSmart Coasts program, these grants provide financial and technical support for local efforts to increase awareness and understanding of climate impacts, identify and map vulnerabilities, conduct adaptation planning, redesign vulnerable public facilities and infrastructure, and implement non-structural (or green infrastructure) approaches that enhance natural resources and provide storm damage protection. Grants are available for a range of coastal resilience approaches—from planning, public outreach, feasibility assessment, and analysis of shoreline vulnerability to design, permitting, construction, and monitoring. Over $1.8 million in new grants were announced in August 2016.

Coastal Barrier Resources Act

The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.

The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:

"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."

A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.

On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources. A 2016 report is now available.

FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.


Climate Change Adaptation

Introduction

The Faces of Climate Change Adaptation: The Need for Proactive Protection of the Nation’s Coasts (Coastal States Organization, May 2010) states:

"In recognition of the scope and magnitude of the threat posed by global climate change, on August 13, 2008, Governor Patrick signed the Global Warming Solutions Act. Enacted by the Massachusetts legislature and Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, the Act affirms the Commonwealth’s leadership in clean energy and environmental stewardship by requiring reductions in GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 80% by 2050 and up to 25% by 2020. Among other components, the Act also contains a section focused on meeting the threats and challenges posed by climate change. Section 9 of the Act charged the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs with convening and chairing an advisory committee “to analyze strategies for adapting to the predicted impacts of climate change in the commonwealth.” To ensure expansive and diverse input, membership on the advisory committee was prescribed to be broad, with experts from a range of sectors:
  • transportation and built infrastructure;
  • commercial, industrial, and manufacturing activities;
  • low-income consumers;
  • energy generation and distribution;
  • land conservation;
  • water supply and quality;
  • recreation;
  • ecosystem dynamics;
  • coastal zone and ocean;
  • rivers and wetlands; and
  • local government.


The Act also required the advisory committee to submit a report of its findings and recommendations regarding strategies for adapting to climate change to the legislature. The Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee is expected to present its report to the Legislature in spring 2010.


Additionally, specifically for the coastal areas of Massachusetts, the StormSmart Coasts program was established by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and launched in 2008. The program was designed to better assist coastal communities with the challenges arising from erosion, coastal storms, flood events, sea level rise, and climate change, and provides a menu of tools for successful coastal floodplain management.


One of the foundations of the StormSmart Coasts program is the No Adverse Impact (NAI) approach to coastal land management. NAI was first articulated by the Association of State Floodplain Managers. NAI examines coastal land management with a “do no harm” approach when planning, designing, and evaluating public and private projects. By following the NAI approach, communities can protect people, property, and municipal budgets. It involves planning, regulation and development standards, mitigation and shore development, infrastructure, emergency services, and education and outreach.


The Massachusetts StormSmart Coasts program offers a comprehensive website designed to help different agencies and stakeholders gather valuable information on adapting coastal areas to climate change. Some of these agencies and stakeholders include: Board of Health; Board of Selectmen; Building Department; Conservation Commission; Department of Public Works; Planning Board; and Zoning Board of Appeals. The website informs each stakeholder of its responsibilities, and provides relevant information on the changing coasts and contact information for other stakeholders for collaboration. The StormSmart Coasts website provides information on funding sources for communities seeking to proactively adapt to climate change. StormSmart Coasts also seeks to educate the community about the impacts of climate change. StormSmart Coasts directs readers to specialized (and often free) training for local officials, and general printed information for citizens.


In 2009, StormSmart Coasts initiated five pilot projects with seven communities – Boston, Hull, Falmouth, Oak Bluffs, and the three-town team of Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth – to “test drive” local, pro-active implementation of StormSmart Coasts tools. The results are successful transferable coast-wide models and enhanced partnerships with regional, state, and federal agencies; conservation organizations; academia; and the private sector to better serve coastal communities in Massachusetts."



In recent years Massachusetts has increasingly responded to climate change, both through mitigation and adaptation measures. Climate change impacts, including sea level rise and increased incidence of coastal storms, have been widely acknowledged in a number of guidance documents and adaptation strategies produced for both the state and local municipalities. The StormSmart Coast initiative, a program designed to help local officials in coastal communities address the challenges arising from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate change, has also garnered much praise and attention for its proactive approach to coastal hazard mitigation and preparedness. Importantly, unlike many states, the StormSmart Coast Program represents a centralized data and information source for coastal communities and planners in Massachusetts. Adaptation tools, case studies, maps, guidance documents, and outreach materials are easily accessible, stimulating a greater connectivity among planners, managers, and the public alike. Adaptation pilot projects in several coastal communities have also recently begun, providing an important initial assessment of successful adaptation strategies to be expanded throughout the state. Massachusetts is also in the process of completing its State Adaptation Plan, in addition to implementing its Climate Action Plan.

In September 2011 Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) filed a report with the Legislature that provides a comprehensive overview of observed and predicted changes to Massachusetts’ climate and the anticipated impacts of and potential adaptation strategies to prepare for climate change. The Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, which was finalized in September 2011, was prepared by EEA and the 34-member Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee established under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. It includes a sector-by-sector look at how climate change may impact natural resources and habitat; infrastructure; human health and welfare; local economy and government; and coastal zone and oceans.

Climate Central has launched States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card, the first-ever quantitative assessment that summarizes the changing nature of key threats linked to climate change and the corresponding levels of preparedness for related risks in each of the 50 states. The goal of the Report Card is to help states improve preparedness by recognizing climate-change risks, building an action plan, and implementing this plan. Massachusetts was one of five states that received a grade of “A.” CZM’s work through its StormSmart Coasts program, information on its Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS) tool, projects supported by the Coastal Community Resilience Grants Program (which provides municipalities with financial and technical resources), and the Sea Level Rise: Understanding and Applying Trends and Future Scenarios for Analysis and Planning guidance (PDF, 3.2 MB) were all identified as key actions taken by the Commonwealth to prepare for a changing climate.

Despite these incredible strides, Massachusetts lacks fundamental tools and policies to explicitly direct construction and development outside vulnerable coastal zones. Statewide mandated setbacks do not exist within the Massachusetts coastal zone, and there are few regulations governing rebuilding, zoning, and development siting within floodplains and/or hazard prone areas. There is also a lack of comprehensive erosion, elevation, shoreline change, subsidence, and inundation data, mapping, and monitoring for state’s entire coastline. In this regard, the state’s coastal regulations thus also fail to explicitly accommodate future coastline changes and the effects of sea-level rise. Nevertheless, many local municipalities are independently responding to climate change effects with their own bylaws and coastal policies. Still, it is recommended that on the whole, Massachusetts adopt strict, statewide policies specifically designed to allow the natural landward migration of the coastal zone. Stringent and comprehensive regulations pertaining to coastal zone construction and permitting will also enable the state and local communities more effectively protect vulnerable coastal areas. Yet the effectiveness of these policies will largely depend on the extent of coastal zone mapping. It is thus recommended that mapping efforts focus on combining coastal erosion rates with estimated relative sea level rise rates to better prioritize communities and regions most susceptible to climate change impacts.

Mitigation

In August of 2001, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) formally adopted a regional Climate Change Action Plan designed to reduce GHG emissions to a level that would stabilize the earth’s climate and mitigate negative impacts. The Plan called for a reduction in regional GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, and a long-term goal of reductions to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate (75-85%). On May 6, 2004, Massachusetts solidified its commitment to implementation of the NEG/ECP with the unveiling of the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan that called for strict standards for old coal-fired power plants, promotion of renewable energy, and encouragement of green building technology, energy efficiency, cleaner vehicles, and public awareness. Despite the suite of progressive actions, plan focused almost entirely on voluntary initiatives in the private sector, and includes no enforcement mechanisms for requiring attainment of emissions reduction goals. Furthermore, while the plan included approximately 70 different policy initiatives, it fails to both estimate the extent to which these initiatives will actually reduce emissions or consider the financial implications of emissions reduction strategies.

Massachusetts is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state cooperative effort aimed at implementing a regional mandatory cap and trade program in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic that addresses CO2 emissions from power plants. As the first mandatory market-based program to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S., the program will cap regional power plan CO2 emissions at approximately current levels from 2009 through 2014, and reduce emissions 10% by 2019. While seven northeastern states signed an original Memorandum of Understanding to participate in the RGGI system as early as December 2005, Massachusetts, although a key member in the RGGI development, did not become a member until 2007. Nevertheless, the state pledges to use the proceeds of the sale of emissions allowances to fun an aggressive program of energy savings for both households and industries. Governor Patrick has also prioritized the purchase of renewable energies for state agencies.

Recognizing the inadequacies of the original Climate Protection Plan, on August 7, 2008, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) requiring the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to set economy-wide GHG reduction goals to achieve reductions of:

  • Between 10 percent and 25 percent below statewide 1990 GHG emission levels by 2020.
  • 80 percent below statewide 1990 GHG emission levels by 2050.


To meet these goals, the GWSA further requires the state to establish GHG emissions reporting regulations, conduct a baseline assessment of statewide 1990 GHG emissions, develop projections for 2020 GHG emissions, and formulate a plan to achieve specific emission reductions by 2020. In addition to mitigation measures, the Act further mandated the creation of an advisory committee to analyze strategies and develop recommendations that will enable Massachusetts to better adapt to climate change impacts. In response to the mitigation and adaptation concerns identified in the GWSA, the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs established both the Climate Protection and Green Economy Advisory Committee and the Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee. In February 2010, the Commonwealth's technical consultant completed an analysis that showed that state and federal policies now in place or anticipated have Massachusetts on track toward emissions reductions of 18 percent by 2020. A draft Implementation Plan for the Global Warming Solutions Act has been released, and just recently closed for public comment. A finalized version is expected in late 2010. More information concerning the Implementation Plan.

In August 2008, Governor Patrick also signed the Green Communities Act (GCA), a comprehensive reform of the Massachusetts energy marketplace to improve the state's ability to meet the GWSA targets. The GCA promotes a dramatic expansion in energy efficiency, supports the development of renewable energy resources, creates a new greener state building code, removes barriers to renewable energy installations, stimulates technology innovation, and helps consumers reduce electric bills. It also created the Green Communities Program, providing Massachusetts cities and towns with energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities.

Along these same lines, a number of Massachusetts cities and communities have adopted Climate Action Plans of their own, intended to initiate local programs and policies to reduce GHG emissions. As one of the first Massachusetts communities to join the Cities for Climate Change Protection campaign, Medford, Massachusetts also led the way in creating its own local Climate Action Plan. Since then, the cities of Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, Newton, and Sommerville have also published similar versions of climate action plans.

Massachusetts maintains a state climate change website through its Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The site details the science behind climate change, in addition to the steps Massachusetts has taken to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Educational and public outreach tools concerning Massachusetts climate change laws, regulations, research, and initiatives, are also included.

Adaptation

On August 7, 2008, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, (see also here) which in addition to GHG reduction mandates, created the Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee assigned with the task of analyzing strategies for adapting to predicted impacts of climate change in the commonwealth. In May 2009 the Committee was assigned and organized into 5 sub-committees: Natural Resources & Habitat, Local Economy, Human Health & Welfare, Key Infrastructure, and Coastal Zone & Ocean. The Advisory Committee's report to the Legislature is currently under development.

In September 2011 Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) filed a report with the Legislature that provides a comprehensive overview of observed and predicted changes to Massachusetts’ climate and the anticipated impacts of and potential adaptation strategies to prepare for climate change. The Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report was prepared by EEA and the 34-member Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee established under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. It includes a sector-by-sector look at how climate change may impact natural resources and habitat; infrastructure; human health and welfare; local economy and government; and coastal zone and oceans.

In May 2015 on behalf of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), CZM announced the availability of funding through a grant program that supports local efforts to address the effects of coastal storms, flooding, erosion, and sea level rise. The Coastal Resilience Grant Program provides financial and technical support for local efforts to increase awareness and understanding of climate impacts, identify and map vulnerabilities, conduct adaptation planning, redesign vulnerable public facilities and infrastructure, and implement non-structural (or green infrastructure) approaches that enhance natural resources and provide storm damage protection. Managed through CZM’s StormSmart Coasts program, grants are available for a range of coastal resilience approaches—from planning, public outreach, feasibility assessment, and analysis of shoreline vulnerability to design, permitting, construction, and monitoring. For more information, see the EEA press release. Over $1.8 million in new grants were announced in August 2016.

In addition, there is the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Grant Program, which provides funding to cities and towns to complete a community-driven process to identify hazards and develop strategies to improve resilience. Through this program, municipalities will be better equipped to plan and prepare for climate change, and state government will gain a better understanding of the challenges communities face. Additionally, the program will help ensure coordinated statewide efforts and align programs with the critical challenges facing communities. State-certified MVP providers will deliver the program using a standardized toolkit for assessing vulnerability and developing strategies, and the best available statewide climate projections and data. Upon successful completion of the program, municipalities will be designated as a “Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program community,” which may lead to increased standing in future funding opportunities.

As mentioned above, Executive Order No. 181 (1980) was enacted to strengthen the protection of barrier beaches in Massachusetts. Recognizing the dynamic nature of barrier beaches, and their importance in providing storm damage prevention and flood control, EO 181 discourages further development on barrier beaches by limiting state and federal funding for new support facilities and infrastructure that promote growth. The EO also gives priority status for relocation assistance from storm damaged barrier beach areas and encourages public acquisition of barrier beaches for recreational purposes. In spite of these efforts, substantial development has occurred on Cape Cod and in other vulnerable coastal areas. This article discusses serious environmental issues, including sewage discharges and erosion, that are threatening Cape Cod now that too much had been built too close to the shore. Climate change is exacerbating these issues.

In February 2006, the governor created the Massachusetts Coastal Hazards Commission to review existing coastal hazards practices and policies, identify data and information gaps, and draft recommendations for applicable administrative, regulatory, and statutory changes. The Commission released its Final Report and Recommendations in May 2007, entitled Preparing for the Storm: Recommendations for Management of Risk from Coastal Hazards in Massachusetts. The Report contains 29 specific recommendations aimed at reducing coastal hazards, especially in the face of climate change. While most of the recommendations were directed towards state and federal agencies, the Report did acknowledge the importance of local hazard mitigation and planning and the role of local governments. The Final Recommendations importantly recognize the impacts of climate change within the coastal zone, noting:

“The coastal zone is being severely impacted by erosion and flooding due in part to climate change and sea-level rise. It is likely that this impact will increase in the future as sea level continues to rise at the current rate or rises at an accelerated rate.”


In order to better plan for and manage current and potential future impacts of sea level rise, the Recommendations call for additional shoreline change and inundation data, as well as undertaking extensive coastal mapping and LiDAR projects.

Despite the obvious acknowledgement of climate change impacts in the coastal zone, Massachusetts does not have mandated statewide coastal setbacks, and further lacks accurate digital flood maps for its entire coastal zone. Nevertheless, the state maintains that coastal erosion rates and the functionality of coastal areas are considered when permitting new development, and has increasingly championed the practice of freeboarding (elevating structures). In addition, many coastal communities have taken the initiative to implement their own bylaws and regulations restricting or prohibiting construction in flood zones or coastal hazard zones. For example, the Town of Scituate has published its Wetlands Protection Rules and Regulations, which defines V-zones and places restrictions on building activities within these zones. The Cape Cod Commission has additionally prepared several Model Bylaws to assist the Cape towns adopt regulations that cover a wide variety of topics, and further help avoid each town "reinventing" a proven approach to land use management (see below for more information). A variety of legislative acts, as well as tremendous dedication on behalf of the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management program, have also helped ensure the protection of the coastline’s natural dynamics, and better prepared the coastal zone in responding to climate change impacts. Still, it is recommended that on the whole, Massachusetts adopt statewide policies specifically directing construction outside predicted flood zones. Further, if the state hopes to comprehensively address sea level rise, it is recommended that coastal erosion rates, combined with estimated relative sea level rise rates, are mapped for the entire coastline.

Coastal resources are also protected, in part, by Massachusetts’s Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) Program. Although the Program does not explicitly address sea level rise, the designation of ACECs aims to preserve, restore, and enhance critical environmental resources and resource areas within Massachusetts. The goal of an ACEC designation is to not only identify important ecological areas, but simultaneously facilitate and support their stewardship. In the majority of cases, proposed projects within ACECs are reviewed with closer scrutiny to avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts. In this sense, important natural shoreline features such as sandy dunes and wetlands benefit from some increased level of protection. However, it must be noted that ACEC designation does not supersede local regulations or zone, change or affect land ownership, allow public access on private property, or prohibit or stop land development. Currently there are 30 ACECs, totaling approximately 268,000 acres statewide.

Various land-use policies also specifically regulate activities within ACECs. In the Waterways Regulation Program (Chapter 91 210 CMR 9.00), for example, the state has set higher environmental standards for certain types of projects located within ACECs, In particular regulations prohibiting fill and additional limits on the construction of new structures (see sections 9.32(1)(e) and 9.32(2)(d)). The Wetlands Protection Act Regulations (310 CMR 10.00) also include provisions regarding ACECs for both coastal and inland wetland Resource Areas. For coastal Resource Areas within ACECs, the performance standard is raised to "no adverse effect" on the interests of the Act, except for maintenance dredging for navigational purposes of "Land Under the Ocean" (see section 10.24(5)(b)). The Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Program Regulations (310 CMR 21.00) call for all appropriate EOEA agencies to preserve, restore, and enhance complexes of coastal resources of regional or statewide significance (through the ACEC Program). Any project proposed in an ACEC that requires a federal permit, is federally funded, or is a direct federal action is subject to federal consistency review by MCZM before the federal activity can take place.

Climate change impacts and sea level rise considerations are also implicitly included in the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act Regulations, which classify primary frontal dunes as significant and establish the no-adverse-effect standard (Section 310 CMR 10.28). Among other actions, the Regulations require that alteration of any coastal dune system does not disrupt or inhibit the natural dynamics of dune systems. More information regarding the complete regulations and More information specifically on 310 CMR.

In the 2005 landmark case Gove vs. Zoning Board of Appeals in the Town of Chatham, coastal zone management in Massachusetts secured an important victory when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of local government authority. In its landmark decision, the Court affirmed the authority of local governments to prohibit or restrict residential construction in flood-prone areas. The case arose when the town of Chatham refused to permit the construction of a new home in a flood zone, in accordance with the local Zoning Bylaw that expressly prohibits new residential construction within the town’s entire mapped floodplain. The city’s zoning bylaw designates “conservancy districts” encompassing all land in the town’s 100-year flood plain, with the goal of protecting people, property, and resources. Within these conservancy districts, Chatham’s bylaws identify prohibited uses, including filling of land, draining of land, actions that destroy natural vegetation, or construction of residential units. As such, construction of a new residential unit, as proposed by the property owner, clearly violated the intent of the bylaw. In addition, not only was the proposed construction shown to negatively impact the surrounding area, allowing construction within the designated floodplain would subject the property to extreme and unnecessary risks. Due to these obvious factors, the court ruled against the property owner, instead upholding the authority of the coastal bylaw and the local government’s enforcement of the bylaw. For more information also refer to the StormSmart Coasts Fact Sheet 2, No Adverse Impact and the Legal Framework of Coastal Management.

As required by the Cape Cod Commission Act, the Cape Cod Commission (CCC) is responsible for producing the Cape Cod Regional Policy Plan (RPP), a planning and regulatory document that help aids development of the Cape Cod area. In its first RPP, released in 2006, the CCC incorporated coastal floodplain policy standards and development limits as outlined in the state’s Coastal Floodplain Task Force publication entitled Scientific Recommendations for Performance Standards for Land Subject to Coastal Storm Flowage (1995). Building on the feedback from community surveys and previous lessons learned, the CCC released its most up-to-date version in 2009. The Plan comprehensively addresses issues associated with sea level rise, consistently stressing the importance of sea level rise considerations when planning and developing in the coastal zone. The report additionally acknowledges the failure of existing land-use and building to properly address the impacts of sea level rise, and thus calls for the application of more stringent standards in the coastal zone. Goal 2.2.2 of the 2003 plan, for example, recommends limiting development in areas subject to coastal storm flows and relative sea level rise. The Goal includes an extensive list of performance standards, protection measures, and outlines specific policies that implicitly consider sea level rise, such as development in flood hazard zones and the reconstruction of damaged structures. In order to accommodate possible relative sea level rise and increased storm intensity, Minimum Performance Standard 2.2.2.2 states:

“… all new buildings, including replacements, or substantial improvements to existing structures within FEMA Azones shall be designed to accommodate the documented relative sea-level rise rate in Massachusetts of at least one foot per 100 years…V-zones shall be designed to accommodate a relative sea-level rise rate of two feet per 100 years.”


Building upon the model floodplain district bylaw originally created by the Cape Cod Commission in 1998, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Sea Grant, in collaboration with the Cape Cod Commission and the National Sea Grant Law Center, is leading an effort to develop a national model coastal floodplain bylaw. In the report Model Bylaw for Effectively Managing Coastal Floodplain Development, authors champion the implementation of progressive coastal management practices and expound on the importance of developing effective coastal zone regulations. Lacking a national standard, coastal floodplain management is grossly inconsistent among coastal states, with many areas inadequately prepared to deal with severe coastal storms and/or relative sea level rise. By researching national, precedent-setting coastal cases, and documenting the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of natural and undisturbed coastal areas, the project has resulted in a model coastal floodplain regulation with national applicability. Creation of this bylaw is intended to help better guide coastal zone management throughout the country, streamline management efforts, and force many areas to reconsider and reevaluate coastal zone management strategies.

For nearly thirty years, the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Program has attempted to comprehensively address sea level rise and coastal erosion issues throughout the state, developing various guidance documents, policies, and regulations in the process. In 2002, the MCZM updated its program policies to address sea level rise issues when reviewing coastal project proposals. The Coastal Hazard Policy #1, for example, states:

"… sea level rise should be factored into the design life, elevation, and location of buildings and other structures within the coastal floodplain"


In 2002, MA CZM updated its program plan with goals to:

  1. prevent, eliminate or significantly reduce threats to loss of life, destruction of property and degradation of environmental resources resulting from improper development, human occupation and other activities in the coastal zone;
  2. allow natural physical coastal processes to continue unabated, to the extent feasible, while allowing appropriately sited coastal development and economic growth;
  3. limit, prohibit or condition public expenditures in coastal high hazard areas in order to ensure that increased exposure to coastal hazards is not promoted; and
  4. prioritize public expenditures for acquisition and relocation of structures out of hazardous coastal areas.


Currently, however, state, federal, and local policies, laws, and regulations do not meet these goals.

With funding from NOAA, the Massachusetts CZM began conducting a GIS analysis of historic maps and aerial photographs, culminating in two important shoreline change reports: Theiler et al., 2000 and O’Connell et al., 2002 (see Additional References). Using the GIS analysis, the reports identified the State’s most erosion prone coastal areas, in turn helping towns and agencies develop policies to better manage the coastal zone in light of dynamic natural processes and rising sea levels.

The MA CZM has also developed the South Shore Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlas, created to help better inform decision making and permitting processes in the coastal zone. The Atlas provides maps illustrating various shoreline variables and depicting such features as littoral cell boundaries, short-term shoreline change, and shoreline type. Tide range, wave climate and storm susceptibility are also characterized for the entire coast of Massachusetts, while the rate of relative sea level rise is provided for stations along the northeastern coast of the United States.

In 2009 MA CZM conducted several outreach efforts to introduce coastal communities to climate change and the adaptation strategies used to minimize anticipated future impacts. For communities on the North Shore, MA CZM partnered with MAPC and the Massachusetts Bays Program on the forum North Shore Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Workshop: Is Your Community Prepared? Presentations are available on the MAPC website.

In May 2009, the MA CZM, Michael Baker Jr., Inc., and the towns of Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury held the lecture No Adverse Impacts: Best Management Practices for Coastal Communities, introducing the No Adverse Impact (NAI) philosophy and explained how communities can implement this improved floodplain management strategies today to prepare for climate change in the future. Described as a set of “do no harm” principles, the No Adverse Impact strategy encourages local coastal communities to carefully consider their coastal areas and resources when designing and permitting construction. In order to comprehensively address coastal issues, the philosophy believes communities should accurately evaluate the potential effects of proposed activities, and further, require developers to find solutions to these potential problems. More information about the NAI policy can be found on Massachusetts’s StormSmart Coast website and StormSmart Coasts Fact Sheet 1, Introduction to No Adverse Impact (NAI) Land Management in the Coastal Zone.

In 2008 the Massachusetts CZM launched the innovative StormSmart Coasts program, in an effort to better increase public awareness and local government action in planning for sea level rise and climate change impacts. The first of its kind, StormSmart Coasts consists of a mix of outreach materials, an information exchange Stormsmart Coasts website, and workshops directed toward planners and local government officials. The website, in particular, serves as a centralized portal for ideas, strategies, regulatory tools, and case studies, and provides especially helpful guidance for a variety of local officials impacted by climate change. The site consolidates and simplifies information from around the U.S. on issues ranging from hazard identification and mapping to legal information and funding. Fact sheets additionally explain the program’s tools and highlight success stories that provide real-world examples of complicated concepts.

In September 2008, the StormSmart Coast Program entered its Phase Two implementation phase by selecting seven projects to serve as pilots for implementing coastal floodplain and sea level rise management tools and strategies described on the StormSmart Coasts website. The seven pilot projects include the city of Boston, the towns of Falmouth, Hull, and Oak Bluffs, and the three-town team of Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth. The original Massachusetts StormSmart Coasts website has further laid the foundation for the National StormSmart Coasts Network, which now includes all the Gulf Coast states, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware and Massachusetts. Over time, sites for other states will be added.

In December 2013, CZM launched the StormSmart Properties website with fact sheets for coastal property owners on shoreline stabilization options that effectively reduce erosion and storm damage while minimizing impacts to shoreline systems. The six techniques covered in this first round of fact sheets are: artificial dunes and dune nourishment, controlling overland runoff to reduce coastal erosion, planting vegetation to reduce erosion and storm damage, bioengineering - coir rolls on coastal banks, bioengineering - natural fiber blankets on coastal banks, and sand fencing. In 2014, CZM will add additional fact sheets on topics such as repair/reconstruction of revetments, seawalls, and groins; beach nourishment; elevating and relocating buildings; sand-filled envelopes; salt marsh creation and restoration on coastal beaches; and design standards for new revetments, seawalls, and groins. Here is Who to Contact and What to Do Before Building or Rebuilding.

With the support of the StormSmart Coast program, the city of Hull now offers a freeboard incentive to residential and commercial construction projects. If the project obtains an elevation certificate verifying the building is elevated a minimum of two feet above the highest federal or state requirement for the flood zone, permit fees will be reduced by up to $500. More information. For updates pertaining to the other six pilot projects, visit the StormSmart Coast website.

In May 2010 the town Oak Bluffs adopted a Floodplain Bylaw prohibiting new residential development and expansion of existing development in coastal high-hazard flood zones. The bylaw further requires that all new development in less hazardous areas go through a special permit process. In September 2010, the community also adopted Special Permit Regulations associated with the town's floodplain district zoning bylaw. These regulations are the first "StormSmart Coasts regulations" to include development submission requirements, design criteria, and performance standards to minimize potential loss of life, destruction of property, and environmental damage. For more information on these pilot projects, as well as more detail on many of the initiatives already highlighted in this report, visit the StormSmart Coast website.

The Buzzards Bay region has also been particularly proactive in reacting to climate change and responding to coastal hazards. In 1984 the U.S. Congress designated Buzzards Bay as one of only four Estuaries of National Significance, and in 1988, the U.S. EPA formally designated the Buzzards Bay Project as a National Estuary Project (NEP). In 1989, the Buzzards Bay Project drafted the Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), the first NEP in the country to do so. As of April 1991, the U.S. EPA had approved the CCMP, which was the country’s first coastal watershed plan to focus on the cumulative impacts of development on water quality.

The Buzzards Bay NEP is now in the process of updating its 1991 CCMP, and is focused on addressing more recent concerns such as climate change impacts. Even as early as 1980s, the Buzzards Bay NEP funded two studies to research the potential impacts of rising sea levels by evaluating the potential loss of upland area due to sea level rise in the 11 communities immediately adjacent to the Bay (Giese, 1987 & IEP, 1989). The studies evaluated shoreline changes based on 0.45, 1.3, and 2.1 ft per century sea level rise estimates, and concluded that several Bay municipalities would experience significant submergence of their coastal uplands by rising waters. Building upon this early research, the updated CCMP includes Action Plan 20: Planning For A Shifting Shoreline and Coastal Storms. Drafted in January 2010, the Action Plan acknowledges the impacts associated with climate change, including rising sea levels, shifting shorelines, and damage from storms and storm surge. The Action Plan thus recommends incorporating sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of coastal flooding and shoreline change phenomena into all relevant planning and management programs.

For currently developed areas, the Action Plan identifies two basic management strategies: managed retreat away from the shoreline or protection of the coastline through use of hard and soft armoring techniques (a combination of the two strategies is also an option). For undeveloped areas, prohibitions on future development are also possibilities. However, understanding that political, legal, and economic considerations will likely take precedence over scientific issues, the plan recommends incorporating existing scientific information into a “rational and equitable management scheme”, as demonstrated in the original 1991 Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP).

The Action Plan recognizes the importance of developing long term policies to address the expected continued rise of sea level rise over the coming centuries, and further identifies specific measures to help increase the area’s adaptive capacity with regards to future storms and accelerated sea level rise.

The recommendations and objectives presented in the Action Plan are based on three primary goals, including:

  • Goal 1 - Protect public health and safety from problems associated with coastal hazards including rising sea level, shifting shorelines, and damage from storms and storm surge.
  • Goal 2 - Reduce the public financial burden caused by the destruction of or damage to coastal property.
  • Goal 3 - Plan for shifting shorelines and the inland migration of buffering wetlands and shifting sand formations, and the species that utilize these habitats.


Within these goals, the Action Plan has developed five main objectives. While Objective 1 explicitly addresses sea level rise, sea level rise and climate change impacts are also implicitly acknowledged in other four goals that focus on coastal hazards, flooding, and changing shorelines. The objectives are as follows:

  • Objective 1. To incorporate sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of coastal flooding, and shoreline change phenomena into all relevant planning and management programs.
  • Objective 2. To develop a comprehensive strategy for handling existing structures in areas that will be affected by future shoreline changes and other coastal hazards.
  • Objective 3. To adopt regulatory and non-regulatory measures for guiding growth and development in areas that will be influenced by coastal flooding and new shorelines.
  • Objective 4. To restructure the flood and hazard insurance programs in threatened areas to decrease the financial burden on the public.
  • Objective 5. To adopt emergency response plans to reflect additional needs and constraints caused by reduced access and increased flooding potential of developed coastlines.


To meet these objectives, the Action Plan goes on to list a total of 19 recommendations. Some of these recommendations include conducting a regional sand management study that identifies critically eroding public beaches and areas most vulnerable to coastal hazards, adoption of community hazard mitigation plans, updates to State Building Code requirements for coastal construction to include freeboard requirements, and development of Risk and Vulnerability Assessment maps for coastal municipalities that include sea level rise and storm surge. Some of the recommendations were also included in the 2007 Coastal Hazard Plan for Massachusetts. More information concerning the Action Plan and the updated CCMP.

On October 29, 2014 Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh launched Boston Living with Water, a design competition for ideas on responding to sea level rise in Boston. Funded in part through CZM’s Coastal Community Resilience Grant Program, this two-stage competition seeks submissions that incorporate concepts and strategies, including Living with Water Design principles that will increase Boston’s sustainability and climate change resiliency. Selected finalists will further advance location-specific solutions to coastal flood dangers and rising sea levels that are beautiful and replicable. For complete competition details, see the Boston Living with Water website.

In February 2013 the Boston Harbor Association released Preparing for the Rising Tide, a report that provides vulnerability analyses for Boston Harbor and time-phased preparedness plans for Boston’s Long and Central Wharves and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Boston campus to increase their resilience to coastal flooding over time.

Recognizing the dynamic nature of coastal ecosystems, and the importance of natural wetlands, the Town of Falmouth initiated a StormSmart Coasts pilot project to develop a multi-hazard mitigation plan that would integrate existing planning efforts to minimize the impacts of natural disasters, including the effects of sea level rise on people, property, infrastructure, and natural, cultural, and economic resources within the community. Associated regulations explicitly address the impacts of accelerated sea level rise, and identify specific resource areas for protection. In areas subject to coastal storm inundation, for example, regulations require planning for relative sea level rise of one foot per 100 years in FEMA-designated A-zones and two feet per 100 years in V-zones. Performance standards have also been established to take into account relative sea level rise and landward migration of resource areas. In areas of critical planning concern of the Black Beach/Great Sippewissett Marsh area, regulations include detailed discussions of the impacts of accelerated sea level rise on a particularly vulnerable coastal resource area. With these regulations, the Town of Falmouth has enhanced the natural ability of its dune and wetland systems to migrate landward in response to sea level rise.

The MIT-USGS Science Impact Collaborative, a field-based graduate training program in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has released a new publication titled Managing Risk: Helping Cities in Massachusetts Adapt to Climate Change. Based on research that began in fall 2009, the report features case studies of efforts underway in four coastal cities to anticipate and respond to the likely impacts of climate change. Adaptation efforts in these four cities are compared with what other Massachusetts cities are doing.

CZM released Sea Level Rise: Understanding and Applying Trends and Future Scenarios for Analysis and Planning (PDF, 3.2 MB) in December 2013, a guidance document to help coastal communities and others plan for and address potential sea level rise effects on residential and commercial development, infrastructure and critical facilities, and natural resources and ecosystems. The document includes background information on local and global sea level rise trends, summarizes the best available sea level rise projections, and provides general guidance in the selection and application of sea level rise scenarios for coastal vulnerability assessments, planning, and decision making for areas that may be at present or future risk from the effects of sea level rise. The document is intended to be updated as new science and information becomes available.

StormSmart Northeast Climate Change Adaptation Project
In 2013, CZM and regional partners wrapped up a two-year regional adaptation project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and co-managed by CZM. This project includes several local case studies developed by the Roger Williams University School of Law Marine Affairs Institute and Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program, a resource room for journalists created by Clean Air-Cool Planet, and six municipal pilot projects. As part of the national StormSmart Coasts Network, the Northeast Climate Change Adaptation website provides information on how coastal communities from the Bay of Fundy to Long Island Sound are adapting land use laws, policies, programs, and infrastructure to changing environmental conditions. In Massachusetts, the communities of Scituate, Marshfield, and Duxbury were granted $30,000 to map areas most vulnerable to sea level rise and identify potential adaptation strategies for public properties, infrastructure, and natural resources. See the Municipal Grants Program page for the maps and report produced by Kleinfelder Northeast, Inc. for the three towns. The Massachusetts Association of Planning Directors (MAPD) awarded the Scituate, Marshfield, and Duxbury town planners the 2013 MAPD Chapter Award for this sea level rise study.

On December 1, 2014 the Patrick Administration announced $1.5 million in funding to support local efforts to address the effects of coastal storms, flooding, erosion and sea level rise. The funding, made available through Governor Patrick’s $50 million investment in climate change initiatives, will be awarded to Duxbury, Hull, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mattapoisett, Nantucket, Provincetown, Sandwich, Swampscott, Wareham, Weymouth and Winthrop. Read more about the individual projects.

Additional References

  1. Water and Wastewater Utility Guidance - EPA has released Flood Resilience: A Basic Guide for Water and Wastewater Utilities (PDF, 493 KB) , a guide that outlines a simple, 4-step assessment process to help water and wastewater utilities determine flooding threats and identify practical mitigation options to protect critical assets. The guide was developed for small and medium drinking water and wastewater utilities that are particularly vulnerable to flooding, which can damage pumps, disconnect chemical tanks, break distribution lines, and disrupt power supply.
  2. Climate Change Indicators Report - EPA has released the third edition of Climate Change Indicators in the United States, a report that presents 30 indicators describing trends related to the causes and effects of climate change. The report describes the significance of these trends and the possible consequences for people, the environment, and society.
  3. Urban Implications of Sea Level Rise - On October 1, 2014 the Urban Land Institute Boston/New England released The Urban Implications of Living with Water, a report that examines the short-, mid-, and long-term steps that Boston and surrounding communities can take to adapt urban centers to rising sea levels.
  4. Public and Private Sector Responses to Sea Level Rise - The Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) has published two reports on sea level rise related risks in the public and private sector. The reports are entitled Sea Level Rise Adaptation in the Public Sector: Challenges, Solutions and Opportunities and Rising Above the Seas: SECing Materiality Through the Corporate Lens. To view the reports, see the ACCO website.
  5. NOAA and Connecticut Sea Grant have released Cost-Efficient Climate Adaptation in the North Atlantic, a report that looks at community-level coastal flood management and climate change adaptation best practices throughout the North Atlantic region of the United States.
  6. Northeast Climate Change Adaptation has information on how coastal communities from the Bay of Fundy to Long Island Sound are adapting their land use laws, infrastructure, policies, and programs to changing environmental conditions. Several case studies are presented.
  7. Storm smart planning for adaptation to sea level rise: addressing coastal flood risk in East Boston Wolff, V. 2009. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 67-69.
  8. Scientific Recommendations for Performance Standards for Land Subject to Coastal Storm Flowage, 1995. Massachusetts Coastal Floodplain Task Force. See Cape Cod Commission Model Bylaws and Regulations, Model Floodplain District Bylaw
  9. Massachusetts Coastal Management Program
  10. Final Evaluation Findings: Mass Coastal Zone Management Program Sep 2003 – Jan 2007
  11. Using Freeboard to Elevate Structures above Predicted Floodwaters
  12. Massachusetts: Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast
  13. Buzzards Bay Action Plan: Planning for a shifting shoreline and Coastal Storms
  14. Climate Change Impacts in Massachusetts – Fact Sheet
  15. Coastal Impacts Due to Sea-Level Rise (FitzGerald et al., 2007)
  16. Mass Impact – Cities and Climate Change Symposium
  17. MASSACHUSETTS HOMEOWNER’S HANDBOOK TO PREPARE FOR COASTAL HAZARDS is a 2013 Sea Grant publication.


General Reference Documents

EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Climate Change, but was removed by the Trump administration.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The National Climate Assessment is an extensive report released through the U.S. Global Change Research Program and produced by a large team of experts with the guidance of the Federal Advisory Committee. The report is put out every few years, with the most recent one being the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the next report expected to be released in 2018-2019. It includes numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on different economic sectors and geographic regions in the U.S. An important and applicable portion of the report is the Response Strategies section, which lays out actionable ways that decision-makers ranging from the federal government to private-sector companies can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.




State of the Beach Report: Massachusetts
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