Last week, Governor Maura Healey’s announcement of $31.5 million in FY2024 Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grants included nearly $5.7 million in funding for community-designed projects to prevent harm to residents, workers, and resources in Resilient Mystic Collaborative (RMC) cities and towns, including Chelsea.
Convened by ten Mystic Watershed communities and the Mystic River Watershed Association in September 2018 and now led by senior staff from 20 cities and towns and non-governmental partners, the RMC focuses on managing flooding and extreme heat on a regional scale and increasing the resilience of vulnerable residents and workers to extreme weather.
Chelsea received two grants, totaling nearly $655,000, to better manage heat along walking routes to the city’s elementary schools and make the highly industrial Eastern Ave safer, cooler, more welcoming, and less prone to coastal flooding.
“As an environmental justice community, our people and built environment are affected first and worst by extreme weather,” said Alex Train, Director of Housing and Community Development. “Thanks to the Healey-Driscoll Administration and the MVP program, Chelsea has been able to make significant investments in climate resilience over the past several years.”
Train said the Eastern Avenue district is a major industrial hub containing critical infrastructure. The Eastern Avenue project seeks to promote better waterfront access, mitigate flooding, and lessen the impacts of urban heat.
“The funds are allowing us to take the planning study that we completed this past year and advance beyond the preliminary design process,” said Train. “Over the last year, we had a pretty robust planning effort that looked at flood protection infrastructure options for the waterfront, and it honed in on one preferred option that would protect the waterfront during projected 2070 conditions.”
The other grant would be used to design and implement some cooling infrastructure around the Mary C. Burke elementary school complex on Crescent Avenue.
“We’ve been looking at several school walking routes and making them more hospitable and healthy for students,” said Train.
Some of the initiatives near the school complex could include greening a parking lot that is across from the school department and adding street trees along the major walking routes to the school.
“These grants can’t come soon enough for Chelsea,” said John Walkey, Director of Waterfront and Climate Justice Initiatives for GreenRoots. “Kids can’t learn in 90 degree classrooms. Eastern Avenue is a critical route through Chelsea and was a flood pathway
for seawater during the 2018 winter storms. We know that this will happen more frequently if we don’t take action now. This is an opportunity to address both flooding and the expanse of hot pavement that contributes to Chelsea’s heat island issues.”
These MVP grants bring the total resources secured for climate resilient projects to $61.4 million in state, federal, and foundation grants since the voluntary partnership began, with the goal of at least doubling that amount by 2026, when new federal grant programs begin to sunset.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to position Massachusetts as a global leader in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the MVP program is an important piece of our strategy,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper. “The Healey-Driscoll Administration is glad to support our local communities with funding for innovative climate resilience projects that center environmental justice and nature-based solutions.”
The largest MVP grant—nearly $3 million—went to Malden River Works (MRW), a riverfront park led and designed by environmental justice residents in partnership with the City of Malden’s Department of Public Works.
The 76-square-mile Mystic River Watershed stretches from Reading through the northern shoreline of Boston Harbor to Revere. An Anglicized version of the Pequot word missi-tuk (“large river with wind- and tide-driven waves”), it is now one of New England’s most densely populated, urbanized watersheds.
The seven-mile Mystic River and its tributaries represented an early economic engine for colonial Boston. Ten shipyards built more than 500 clipper ships in the 1800s before roads and railways replaced schooners and steamships. Tide-driven mills, brickyards and tanneries along both banks of the river brought both wealth and pollution.
In the 1960s, the Amelia Earhart Dam transformed much of the river into a freshwater impoundment, while construction of Interstate 93 filled in wetlands and dramatically changed the river’s course. Since then, many former industrial sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped into new commercial areas and residential communities.
The Mystic is facing growing climate-related challenges: coastal and stormwater flooding, extreme storms, heat, drought and unpredictable seasonal weather. The watershed is relatively low-lying and extensively developed, making it prone to both freshwater and coastal flooding. Its 21 municipalities are home to 600,000 residents, including many who are disproportionately vulnerable to extreme weather: environmental justice communities, new Americans, residents of color, elders, low-income residents and employees, people living with disabilities and English-language learners.