“Ordinary storms and powerful storms are continually chipping away and eroding coastal defense structure, whether it’s beaches or walls or other types. That pounding, if you’re riding in on higher storm surges and higher seas compared to our climate of our grandparents, it means our infrastructure is not up to snuff when it comes to these powerful storms,” she said.
The severity of storms should serve as a reminder to residents that infrastructure repairs, such as sea walls, are not items that can go undone, said Cantwell, who called the recent breaches in Scituate and Marshfield sea walls — which also were damaged in the December 2010 Nor’easter — a “canary in a coal mine.”
“Our structural engineer said [the Scituate sea wall] was sound . . . but the resulting damage, we had two homes burned to the ground because water rushed in so fast — and about 100 homes had varying levels of damage,” he said of the 2010 storm.
Cantwell has put forth legislation to enable the state to provide funding for dams and sea walls. He said the Legislature also is looking for ways to give grants and low-interest loans to towns to perform some of this work. There is additionally an effort to secure federal disaster funding for sea walls.
“My dismay is the federal government built these structures and in large measure haswalked away. . . . We need the federal government to help to come up with a comprehensive state solution. It is a tremendous burden on local towns,” Cantwell said.
Out of necessity, some towns have begun these types of repairs on their own. Last year in Quincy, officials delegated $500,000 to study the 11.7-mile stretch of coastal infrastructure and $4.5 million to fix a stretch of wall in poor condition. Those repairs are under way. Hull spent some of its own money five years ago to repair sea walls on Jerusalem Road.
Plymouth spent $300,000 on a revetment repair last year at Long Beach, near a road that doubles as an evacuation route for the nuclear power plant. Without any state or federal funding, the town was left to dig up the money on its own.
In Marshfield, officials had sought $2.8 million to begin repairs on a stretch of sea wall in the Fieldston area that are expected to cost $4.8 million. Town Meeting, however, provided only $750,000, and officials plan to seek additional funding. Two years ago, Marshfield also spent $1.9 million fixing a section of sea wall on Farragut Road.
And in Scituate, the town has designated $500,000 a year for infrastructure fixes through a Proposition 2½ override. Larger repairs were done with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Despite the federal help, Selectman Norton said the repairs are just too much.
“We are putting asides hundreds of thousand of dollars a year, the town is, for sea wall repair in anticipation of storms like the one we just had. But again, if that sea wall breaches or breaks, it doesn’t take long to go through [a half-million] or a million dollars,” he said.
However, Bruce Carlisle, director of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, said the state is doing much to aid the problem — updating inundation maps, forecasting sea level rise, creating technology to anticipate storm surge, and discussing future planning to mitigate problems.
All in all, Sandy is just more information. “I don’t think anything has really changed,” he said. “In some ways, it’s just a question of time.”
Visit www.boston.com/scituate to see a photo gallery of Hurricane Sandy on the South Shore.
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett @gmail.com. Globe correspondent Natalie Feulner contributed to this article.