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Leaders to meet at symposium on threat of climate change on South Shore

Waves slammed against Scituate’s sea wall during a January 2015 storm.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File

With winter approaching, municipalities south of Boston will soon be busy tuning up snowplows and stockpiling road salt. But officials in some of those communities are also thinking about some longer-term weather-related challenges.

Municipal officials and specialists will meet in Norwell on Dec. 1 for a symposium on the threat that climate change and sea-level rise poses to South Shore towns. Presentations will focus on what communities have been doing, and could do in the future, to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.

Anne Herbst, senior regional environmental planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said people living along the coast already feel that they’re seeing climate change firsthand.


“We’re seeing an increasing frequency and intensity of storms; we’re seeing erosion of beaches, and damage to seawalls,” she said.

Rising sea levels, in particular, pose a pressing threat to coastal communities like Hull, especially when it leads to flooding.

“We’re a flood hazard zone, so we’re educating our citizens about how to build in a flood zone and be prepared for flood events,” said Chris Krahforst, the town’s conservation administrator.

Hull recently completed an assessment to identify the areas most vulnerable to climate change. Next steps are likely to include creating strategies to mitigate the potential impact of rising sea levels on those areas, Krahforst said.

Flooding is nothing new in Hull. Data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency show that more than $15 million has been paid to private flood insurance owners for flood-related losses in the town since 1978; among Massachusetts towns and cities, that amount is larger only in Scituate, Marshfield, and Nantucket.

Krahforst said the town has a program in place to waive some building fees for homeowners who elevate their houses above flood levels.

Away from the coast, river flooding has become a larger problem as well, as precipitation has increased. That’s been the case in Norwell, according to its conservation agent, Nancy Hemingway.


“Where is this inland water going to flow to? Inland folks and inland communities are not realizing that this is going to have a tremendous impact on them as well,” Hemingway said.

Collaboration on these issues has already begun. For example, officials from several South Shore communities recently met to discuss best practices to minimize flood damage, and they’ve heard from those focused on climate change on Cape Cod.

But the symposium will offer a chance to look at a wide range of climate change-related issues, and the differing steps being taken by communities to prepare for the future.

“What I hope comes out of it is that it’s the beginning of a larger, longer dialogue,” Hemingway said.

The specialists expected at the symposium include Chad McGuire, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; Julie Conroy, senior environmental planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council; Ashley Green, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fellow; and Barry Keppard, public health director at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Jacob Carozza can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jacobcarozza.