By Seth Daniel
When residents journey over the Alford Street bridge to the waterfront along the new Wynn Boston Harbor walkway, it won’t be like a lot of the HarborWalk areas in Boston where bulkhead walls provide a sharp cutoff between the land and the water.
Instead, residents will see what was there before the chemical plants moved in and before the property lay dormant for decades – they’ll see what nature intended in the form of a Living Shoreline. That shoreline will not include sharp cutoffs with the water underneath, but rather a slow incline to the water filled with native salt marsh plantings in the tidal areas and, further up, fully native plants between the walkway and the marsh.
Wynn Boston Harbor has been preparing part of their waterfront for a Living Shoreline since April, and in the next few weeks workers will move in to start planting three different varieties of salt marsh grasses in the tidal areas.
Later in the fall, the native coastal plantings will be put in, with all of it resting on a temporary “rock roll” that holds everything in place for about two years until the restoration takes root.
“In the beginning we were not Living Shoreline experts, but during the environmental permitting process, the various groups talked us into it,” said Chris Gordon, president of Wynn Massachusetts Design and Development. “We ended up coming to the conclusion that it was a good idea. Some people may say that the environmental regulation process is a pain, but this is an example of how it isn’t like that. This was a good idea that came out of that process. We talked to the Watershed Association and others and they talked us into it. It was a great idea…We could have done rip-rap, revetments, boulders or other things, but we liked this idea best when we looked at it.”
Gordon added that it fits in with Wynn’s promise to bring the waterfront back to the people – and in the state it was in before industry blocked people out.
“We said we were going to bring back the shoreline here to the people as part of the development,” he said. “This is bringing it back the way it was long before residents were walled off from the shoreline by industry and contamination…We also think it’s going to set a precedent for developments that are coming afterward. They’re not going to see this and then want to put rip-rap or boulders. It’s going to be contagious once people see it.”
Gordon said the Living Shoreline isn’t any more expensive than putting a sharp edge like the bulkheads. In fact, about 50 percent of the shoreline will be a bulkhead formation to accommodate boats. However, the remaining parts will be a softer, natural shore.
The Living Shoreline concept is very new and innovative, especially in Boston where there is only one other example, which is at Clippership Wharf in East Boston.
However, the idea may grow as it provides great flood and storm surge protection, something that has become very important in Greater Boston through protecting shorelines from sea level rise (which is known as Climate Resiliency).
Wynn officials said their primary reasoning for introducing the Living Shoreline into the project came down to three main points.
First, a 2015 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study showed that living shorelines can help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while increasing coastal resilience.
Second, acre for acre, salt marsh can store two to three times as much carbon over the course of a year as mature tropical forests.
Finally, living shorelines have been demonstrated to be more resilient to hurricane impacts than shorelines hardened with bulkheads. That will be very important for the Wynn property as the future is uncertain with regards to sea level rise and storm surge.
Right now, workers are preparing the foundations for the Living Shoreline.
Already, they have completed the placing of the “rock roll,” which is simply large rocks rolled into a coconut fiber sheathing that will disintegrate after a few years. That is simply in place to keep everything from washing away when it’s taking root.
A silt and fine sand surface has been placed in the tidal zone to accommodate the salt marsh grasses. Those grasses have been cultured in a nursery and are growing in waters taken from the Mystic River so they are acclimated to the conditions before being planted. They are expected to be planted by hand during low tide throughout the rest of the summer.
The upper plantings outside of the tidal zone will be placed in a loam mixture and will be placed in the fall.
It is hoped that by October, the Living Shoreline will be in place.
Gordon said that would feed into the dredging project for the Mystic River waterway just off the casino property. That is still in the permitting stage, but it is hoped that will be approved soon.
The bid is already out and the hope is to start by October after the fish have migrated and spawned in the River. Due to the fish migration patterns, dredging is only allowed from October to February in the Mystic River.