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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Massachusetts looks to hire ‘chief coastal resilience officer’ to respond to rising sea levels, extreme storms

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, flanked by Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, speaks to media on Nov. 6 following the weekly leadership meeting at the Massachusetts State House.  (Amanda Sabga/Boston Herald/TNS)
By Chris Van Buskirk Boston Herald

BOSTON – A new employee within the state’s Office of Coastal Zone Management will be tasked with identifying the strategies, funding and a regulatory framework to address the impacts of climate change along Massachusetts’ 1,500-plus mile coastline.

Warning that climate change “poses a very real threat to our coastal way of life,” Gov. Maura Healey said Tuesday a state planning initiative dubbed “ResilientCoasts,” led by the chief coastal resilience officer, will help prepare communities for rising sea levels and more extreme storms.

“This is a matter of fiscal responsibility. Our coastal cities and towns have been weathering erosion, sea level rise, and extreme storms without a holistic state strategy,” Healey said in a statement. “Homeowners, small businesses and municipal governments deserve a regional approach to this problem.”

A state job posting said the chief coastal resilience officer is responsible for implementing the policies and program of the Office of Coastal Zone Management “as they relate to improving coastal resilience to natural coastal hazards along the commonwealth’s coast.”

The job was posted on Nov. 17, is potentially eligible for a hybrid work schedule and comes with a yearly salary of between $81,529 and $110,000, according to the posting.

Applicants must have five years of management experience; knowledge of federal and state environmental laws, regulations and policies; knowledge of climate hazards to coastal areas; and policy analysis and development skills, among other things.

Sea levels could rise in Massachusetts by 2.5 feet by 2050 compared to 2008 if global emissions are “not significantly reduced,” the Healey administration said. As flooding along the coastline is also projected to increase, the statewide annual average damages to coastal structures could stretch beyond $1 billion per year by 2070, state officials said.

Roughly $55 billion worth of structures are built in Massachusetts within the floodplain for a 100-year coastal storm – $40 billion is residential, $12 billion is industrial and $2.5 billion is commercial, the Healey administration said.

“The number of vulnerable infrastructure assets and anticipated loss will grow over time as rising seas expand the coastal floodplain,” the administration said.

The Healey administration plans to outline new “coastal resilience districts,” or geographic regions that share similar landscape and face similar climate risks. The districts will be determined in 2024 so communities can help develop “tailored resilience policy and regulatory strategies,” the administration said.

State officials will also determine whether dredging, “coastal nourishment,” roadway elevation or managed retreats are necessary to mitigate impacts of climate change. Regulatory action will focus on supporting “nature-based solutions,” streamlining permitting processes and the consideration of future sea level rise, the Healey administration said.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper said the state faces “some tough questions ahead” on coastal climate change.

“Where will it be safe to build? How can we preserve our historical landmarks? What infrastructure will withstand ever worsening weather? We’re taking on some of the difficult aspects of coastal resiliency, and we’re doing it in partnership with municipalities, lawmakers, academics and advocates to build consensus along the way,” Tepper said in a statement.