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Governor Healey unveils plan to protect Mass. coastline from climate change

Flooding in Marshfield during a powerful blizzard in 2018.John Tlumacki

BEVERLY — We’re all in this together. That’s the message from Governor Maura Healey when it comes to managing the state’s coastline from the perils of climate change.

On Tuesday morning, the governor laid out a new regional approach called “ResilientCoasts,” a plan to collaborate with 78 coastal communities. It will be led by a chief coastal resilience officer at the Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The team will unite communities that share similar landscapes and face similar challenges from climate change, including sea level rise, coastal erosion, and more severe storms. The state’s coastal communities include marshes, beaches, dunes, ports, and harbors.

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Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey said a new chief coastal resilience officer will lead efforts on climate change impacts.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“Here on the coast, we see the impacts of climate every day . . . today is about taking action,” Healey said. “Our coastal cities and towns have been weathering erosion, sea level rise, and extreme storms without a holistic state strategy. Homeowners, small businesses, and municipal governments deserve a regional approach to this problem.”

In coming years, coastal communities, which span more than 1,500 miles of shoreline, will be forced to deal with increasingly difficult decisions as the damage from climate change is expected to grow more severe, including where to build and how to protect existing structures and infrastructure.

Massachusetts is planning for sea level rise by up to 2.5 feet by midcentury, compared with 2008, if global carbon emissions are not significantly reduced. By 2070, the state estimates damages to coastal structures could exceed $1 billion per year, if global warming isn’t slowed, according to a Climate Change Assessment released this fall.

“Now is the time for action,” the state’s climate chief, Melissa Hoffer, said in a statement. “This initiative will allow us to make prudent cost-saving investments that protect our communities and coastal ecosystems.”

Tuesday’s news conference was just a beginning though, and it was short on substance and long on promises. The person to head the program, the chief coastal resilience officer, was not named.

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Healey did say Massachusetts is developing the nation’s “first comprehensive strategy to protect coastal communities,” a statewide initiative to tackle the impacts of climate change on the coast.

“This problem is not a problem to take on town by town,” said the state’s energy and environment affairs secretary, Rebecca Tepper. “We are keenly aware that our coastal communities face unparalleled risk.”

The new plan will include nature-based solutions to promote coastal resilience, as well as a streamlining of the permitting process for restoration projects.

“Bringing these communities together in a deliberate manner certainly holds potential for a once in a generation effort to protect both property values and ecosystems that are critical to the future of the Commonwealth,” said Adam Chapdelaine, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, a nonprofit group that brings together the state’s local governments.

That call for unity was echoed by local leaders, including Mike Cahill, the mayor of Beverly, a city with 14 miles of shoreline. “We know that we can’t just harden our coastlines,” he said. “We need to learn to live with the water.”

Nearly 2.5 million people live within the 78 coastal communities in Massachusetts. Approximately 55 percent of the population is made up of communities of color, low-income populations, and/or communities facing language barriers.

On Tuesday, environmental groups also voiced support for the governor’s approach.

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“With its proactive approach to addressing climate concerns on a state level, the Healey-Driscoll Administration is becoming a standout nationally for climate policy that addresses issues holistically, creatively, and equitably,” Alison Bowden, The Nature Conservancy’s interim state director, said in a statement. “By focusing on nature-based climate solutions to protect intact habitats, shorelines, and ecologically vital landscapes, we can make a significant difference in protecting our coastal areas.”



Jason Margolis can be reached at jason.margolis@globe.com. Billy Baker can be reached at billy.baker@globe.com. Follow him on Instagram @billy_baker.