A plan to fortify a key Ipswich coastal road against the effects of climate change received a major boost with a $163,732 grant from the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.
The grant advances design of the joint project by Ipswich and the Trustees of Reservations to protect Argilla Road from future flooding caused by rising sea levels and intensifying storm surges.
Argilla Road is the only public route to the Trustees’ Crane Estate, a 2,100-acre conservation area that includes Castle Hill, Crane Beach, and Crane Wildlife Refuge and attracts 350,000 annual visitors.
“Our coastal properties are on the ‘front lines’ of the impacts from our changing climate, and we know we must act now to monitor changes, pilot solutions, and be prepared for the future,” Barbara Erickson, president & CEO of the Trustees, a statewide land conservation organization, said in a statement.
In 2018, the state awarded Ipswich $156,155 under its Coastal Resilience grant program for initial project design. The new grant will move the design to near completion. Ipswich and the Trustees, who are matching the two grants with $111,645 of its own funds and staff time, plan to seek additional grant money later for construction.
“It’s a high priority of the town,” said Frank Ventimiglia, director of operations for Ipswich’s Department of Public Works, noting that Argilla Road has deteriorated from past flooding. “We’d probably be looking to make improvements on this road in the near future if the grant was not available. This gives us an opportunity to make the road more resilient.”
Ipswich and the Trustees began partnering on the project after a 2017 study conducted for the Trustees identified Crane Beach and Crane Wildlife Refuge as two of its properties most at risk to coastal flooding, according to Tom O’Shea, the Trustees’ director of coast and natural resources.
During a March 2018 storm, Crane Beach was temporarily closed because of flooding on Argilla Road, and the beach gatehouse had to be raised. Even without storms, the section of the road near Crane Estate floods during high tides about three times a month. The study predicted that by 2070, the road would be largely impassable, making the beach inaccessible.
In addition to ending flooding, the project is intended to help prevent future damage to the road and to enhance the health of the salt marsh that is traversed by Argilla Road.
The plan calls for replacing an existing undersized culvert with one large enough to allow a full tidal flow from one side of the road to the other. The road also would be raised in several sections, and as a result would need to be widened, necessitating some filling of the marsh. Vegetation would be planted along the road bank to stabilize it without harming the environment.
“We want to use a nature-based bank to handle and soften the flow of water in order to minimize scouring of the road and to create a softer edge,” O’Shea said.
He said state officials are looking at the project as a potential model for similar climate change initiatives in other coastal areas. The Trustees received a separate, $82,000 grant to educate others about its work at Argilla Road and at two sites on Martha’s Vineyard.
O’Shea said the Argilla Road project reflects “a recognition that the climate is changing and we need to find ways to adapt.”