“The only great answer is to elevate the structure and allow storm tides to go below buildings,” he said.
Rick Murray, a Scituate selectman and Boston University earth and environment professor, said that intensive coastal events such as last weekend’s blizzard will become more frequent.
“This is consistent with everything climate scientists are talking about,” Murray said. “And it’s also been predicted that we’re going to have larger storms and more frequent storms. It’s hard to say this storm is due to whatever, but this seems to be the trend, and it’s not scientifically surprising.”
Discussions need to focus beyond just updating and maintaining coastal barriers, Murray said. Discussions also need to include a systematic retreat from the ocean.
“We need changes in zoning,” Murray said. “We cannot be building where we are building. We just can’t be doing it. [When] a house gets torn down, we have to set up systems with insurance and state government and federal government that there is a financial incentive to move away.”
That retreat has occurred at Peggotty Beach in Scituate, home to some 40 houses before the Blizzard of ’78 but fewer than a half-dozen today.
“That is what we call managed retreat,” Murray said. “It’s not going to happen after this storm, or in a fell swoop after the next or after the next, but after 30 years we might look around and if we have all these incentives . . . we may look around and there [will be] half as many homes on Humarock . . . or on Turner Road, with the people’s blessing because they have regained and retained their equity. And we’re not risking our firefighters’ lives hauling people out of their windows.”
But for those like Carol Ann Green, who has stuck it out through every storm in the 17 years she’s lived on Lighthouse Road in Scituate, or 83-year-old Joan Drummond, whose summer house on Lighthouse Road has seen eight generations of family pass through, the waterfront is where they want to stay.
“There is nothing more beautiful than looking out and seeing the harbor, boats, getting in the water yourself, whether it be by kayaking or sailing,” Drummond said. “I think any of these people around here you talk to will say, yeah, it’s worth it.”
Globe correspondent Johanna Seltz contributed to this report. Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.