By Reese Burns, Assistant Editor
Over the last few decades, the flooding and erosion problem on Nantucket has become more evident. Every year, especially in the winter months, the downtown area of Nantucket is frequently affected by flooding, putting many homes and historic buildings at risk of damage. Furthermore, the impacts of erosion have decreased the sizes of the beaches to an observable level. As time moves forward and sea levels continue to rise with the effects of climate change, the problem is only expected to worsen.
When envisioning the future of Nantucket, it is not realistic to assume that the flooding and erosion problems will cease on their own. Fortunately, Nantucket’s Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee has been assessing the island’s vulnerability and has initiated the first steps of the Coastal Resilience Plan. As they state in their report from January 2020, “The goal of this Coastal Risk Assessment and Resiliency Strategies (CRARS) Report is to address the current and future social, economic, and ecological resilience of Nantucket to the impacts of sea-level rise and anticipated increases in the frequency and severity of storm surge, coastal flooding, and erosion.” While this may seem as though such a task must be performed by a qualified group of individuals such as the Committee themselves, it is really up to the community members of Nantucket to act in order for changes to occur.
Mary Longacre, chair of the Coastal Resilience Committee, puts a great emphasis on many locations at risk of major flooding but directs attention to arguably one of the most directly affected areas, downtown. Longacre mentions how “the Steamship Wharf has been monitored since 1968 and it has shown that we’ve already experienced an 8-inch rise in sea level in the harbor and the expectation with climate change is that it will continue to rise and accelerate.” Longacre is eager to involve the younger generations of Nantucket in the planning to strengthen the coast. She believes that “it is not a good plan unless we have a lot of input from the community,” and is hopeful for the success of reducing the risk of flooding and erosion once the island can come together to make impactful changes.
On January 28, 2021, the Coastal Resilience Committee hosted a virtual open house where Nantucket residents, or lovers of the island, could attend and learn more about how to build resiliency. The event began with an opening presentation where the overall goals for the Coastal Resilience Plan were introduced which then led into smaller group discussions. Within these smaller groups, attendees conversed and expressed their opinions on numerous topics including: “What areas of Nantucket concern you the most with regard to flooding and erosion?” and “What do you value most about living in Nantucket? What would you want to keep the same? What would you be willing to change?” The purpose of this open house was to generate attention towards this cause and to receive input from the community on how the plan can move forward in the most effective way.
From the historic homes to downtown businesses to Nantucket’s beloved beaches, this issue is one that cannot be ignored. Until the island community can face these problems head-on and acknowledge the little lifestyle changes that can be made to benefit the future of Nantucket, the coastline will only continue to weaken. As Longacre puts it, “We can’t just put these on the shelf and get to them later. It’s really something that needs immediate attention.”