Climate Modeling Supports Suffolk Downs Project, Improves Resilience

VHB-led study helps secure $6M for area improvements

May 26, 2020

Climate Modeling Supports Suffolk Downs Project, Improves Resilience

When VHB was hired to work on the Suffolk Downs redevelopment in Boston and Revere, Massachusetts, it was tasked with assessing the project’s resilience to climate change. The 161-acre site, which is being redeveloped from the ground up into a new mixed-use neighborhood, provides a unique opportunity to prepare for climate change through upfront infrastructure planning.

The site is complex, with many topographic and environmental constraints. It is bounded by tidally influenced waterways and marshland, an active rail line, and a state highway. A freshwater creek also bisects the site, which is upstream from a state-owned pumping station and tide gate. To understand the impacts climate change may have on this interconnected system, and how the built environment affects the movement of floodwaters on and off the site, as part of the state environmental review process required for the project under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) VHB completed a Resiliency and Adaptation Study—the first of its kind for a single development. By analyzing current and future climate conditions for rainfall and coastal flooding, the team sought to evaluate whether the development would displace floodwaters, determine if the project provided a resilient design, and recommend appropriate mitigation.

Known for its strong partnerships with regulators and collaborative approach, VHB’s first step was to form a working group with the MEPA Office, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the state Transit Authority. Meeting regularly with the working group, VHB studied both current sea levels and various sea level rise scenarios, using detailed hydrologic and hydraulic models to analyze data from a variety of sources. The results enabled the team to accurately simulate the flow of floodwaters under different scenarios using 2D modeling software. The final step was to create visualizations of possible storm events to help communicate the project’s many complexities to regulators.

As a result of VHB’s Resiliency and Adaptation Study, the developer, HYM Investment Group, committed $6 million in mitigation funding to improve flood resiliency at the project site and over 1,000 surrounding properties. The VHB study identified several potential flood protection measures, to be confirmed when returning to MEPA at Phase 4R, including upgrading the existing state-owned pump station, constructing protective berms on the site, and installing tide gates. The study also investigated constructing an additional off-site berm, topped by a recreational bikeway, that would connect Constitution Beach to Revere Beach and further protect the area from coastal storm surge.

The redevelopment of Suffolk Downs is considered an essential project for the Boston area, providing much-needed affordable housing to the communities of Boston and Revere and significant economic development throughout the lifespan of the project. VHB is proud to have supported this project with integrated services, helping to strengthen the resiliency of our communities.

To learn more about VHB’s climate adaptation and environmental modeling services, please contact Lauren DeVoe or Mark Costa.