Flooding Issues in Charlestown an Eye-Opener for Many Last Friday

Flooding has always been more of an East Boston thing when it comes to neighborhoods north of downtown, but last Friday coastal flooding quickly became a major Charlestown issue as water inundated places that usually stay dry like the Schrafft’s parking lot, the Navy Yard streets, and even the NewTown development surrounding the Little Mystic.

All of the “hot spots” that have quickly come into focus this year, after having two of the highest tides on record recently, were previously never thought of as places where flooding could occur.

That was until last Friday at 11:15 a.m.

That was exactly what transpired at the Schrafft’s parking lot on Friday, as a steady stream of water from the Mystic River topped the seawall and flowed fast into the parking lot, inundated close to 100 cars that had been parked by employees on what had been solid ground earlier in the day.

As the 11 a.m. high tide approached, many employees said they looked out and were stunned to see about 2 or 3 feet of water surrounding their cars.

Hundreds of employees rushed to the lot to move their cars.

Some were successful.

Others were too late.

In the Navy Yard, for the second time this year (the first time being the Jan. 4 blizzard) floodwaters poured over the seawalls and inundated the Drydocks. Water poured in quick fashion to the streets and left a lake of about six inches to eight inches of water on many streets.

Employees of the local businesses marveled at the sight, as many of them weren’t at work for the Jan. 4 high tide due to the blizzard canceling most work plans.

On Terminal Street, a new lake appeared as the Little Mystic Channel overflowed its boundaries and created about 2 feet of water over the road. Many trucks and cars braved the deluge and drove through. Police arrived just after high tide and seemed to be considering closing the road.

Further up the Mystic River, at the Amelia Earhart Dam, water came within a foot of cresting the structure, according to reports from the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA). Though just beyond Charlestown, compromising the Dam could have meant even more dire results for places like Schrafft’s, Main Street and Sullivan Square.

Back at Schrafft’s, one man was found emptying about a foot of water out of his backseat with an empty travel mug around 11:25 a.m. on Friday.

“Yes it is frustrating,” he said, when asked. “My car is ruined. I don’t even know if it’s going to work now. They have people watching the lot. Why didn’t anyone tell us about this?”

City of Boston officials, however, have been trying to do just that for about a year – especially in the Sullivan Square/Schrafft’s area.

Austin Blackmon, chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, has led an initiative with the City to be ready for flooding in the Sullivan Square area. In fact, it was one of several “hot spots” identified as immediate threats in the City last fall.

In October 2017, Blackmon and the City held an Open House at the Schrafft’s building to address just these kinds of flood events and share plans to make short- and long-term improvements.

“The flooding we saw from this latest storm is once again proof that we all need to take climate change seriously,” said Blackmon this week. “That’s why we’re taking immediate steps now to protect those neighborhoods most at-risk to coastal flooding. We know all of Boston will be impacted by the changing climate, and we’re prepared to build a stronger city. That doesn’t happen over night and not by anyone acting singularly. If we’re going to achieve our climate goals, it’ll take all of us working together.”

According to a plan released at the meeting last October, the City plans to tag on to the Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square redevelopment by raising Main Street near the Schrafft’s Building and looking at other initiatives on the seawall for long-term improvements.

However, City Councilor Lydia Edwards said plans might not be serious enough. She said it’s time to really implement resilient flood plans right now.

“What we have to decide is if we’re going to accept this as the ‘new normal’ in our lives,” she said. “If we have decided we’re not going to accept this for ourselves and our children, we need to have serious planning for coastal resilience in Boston. A decent amount of people aren’t denying the science, but we have people sitting on their hands not knowing what to do. We should be leading. I don’t care what San Francisco says, you can’t get more coastal than Boston.”

She said now, during this building boom, would be the time to require builders to implement these flooding and coastal resilience plans.

“When you’re in a building boom, you’re in a position to require things from developers, require them to make these changes,” she said. “People want to build here now. It’s a privilege. We can leverage that.”

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