Study Identifies High Risk Flood Areas In Orleans

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Environment , Orleans news , Climate Change , coastal flooding , cape cod commission

South Orleans Road at Pleasant Bay is one of several roads identified as high risk for flooding. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS -- With town roadways facing an increased risk of flooding in the coming years, local officials are being asked to prioritize which stretches of road are most in need of protection.

The Cape Cod Commission and Woods Hole Group presented findings of its analysis of the town's low-lying roads to Orleans officials Nov. 16. The presentation, which was held remotely via Zoom, was the first of several public discussions the commission will hold this fall and winter with the town to prioritize areas and come up with solutions to stave off coastal flooding.

At the top of the town's short list are stretches of Rock Harbor Road, South Orleans Road/Route 28 in the area of Pleasant Bay and a portion of Areys Lane.

The commission is working with 10 Cape towns, including Orleans, as part of its low-lying roads initiative. Using funds from an Economic Development Administration disaster grant and a Massachusetts Municipality Vulnerability Preparedness action grant, the commission and Woods Hole Group will help develop solutions to prevent or mitigate flooding in two specific areas in each town.

Data provided by the Woods Hole Group Nov. 16 shows that 9.5 miles of the 143 miles of town road in Orleans are projected to be vulnerable to flooding by 2030. By 2050, that number is expected to increase to 14.4 miles. The report anticipates a 2.5 foot increase in sea level rise by 2050 and an increase of close to 4.5 feet by 2070.

"The thinking is you'll have a plan to protect your roadways for that future," said Joe Famely, climate sustainability team lead for the Woods Hole Group.

The report also identified areas at high risk of flooding in town by 2030, taking into account the probability of flooding in each area and the criticality of preserving access. Those include two sections of both Rock Harbor Road and South Orleans Road, as well as Areys Lane, Bay View Drive, River Road, Namequoit Road, Quonset Road, Skaket Beach Road, Defiance Lane and Herring Brook Road. By 2070, that list expands to include Bridge Road, the Mid-Cape Highway, the Eastham Rotary, Old Country Road and Captain Linnell Road.

Famely noted that some of the identified areas are state roadways, including South Orleans Road, the Mid-Cape Highway, the Eastham Rotary.

"We're including them because we think it's in the community's best interest to know what the areas of risk are, but you may not want to pursue an adaptation project because the road is not in your control," Famely said.

The Woods Hole Group data shows that some areas are certain to be subject to flooding by 2030, including a 560-foot stretch of Areys Lane and 100-foot stretches of River Road and Quanset Road.

Andrea Reed of the select board noted that certain neighborhoods in town, including on and around Areys Lane, would be inaccessible to emergency vehicles if roadways are closed due to flooding.

"What happens in that community when it gets cut off in two different directions?" Residents in the area of Mayflower Point also stand to be left inaccessible by flooding in certain areas, she said.

Tom Daley, the town's public works director, said South Orleans Road near the Harwich town line is a recurring problem with regard to flooding. Orleans Police Chief Scott MacDonald echoed those concerns, adding that police close portions of the road multiple times a year due to flood events.

"This for me is a top priority from a public safety standpoint," he said. "It uses a lot of our resources."

Rock Harbor Road "becomes an island" during storm events and periods of heavy rain, Daley said. He also raised concerns with the Eastham Rotary,

"I think the entire Outer Cape should be concerned about the rotary," he said. "That's a problem."

Among the potential options for the town include soft solutions, such as the creation of dune systems, as well as seawalls, revetments and other hard solutions.

Town officials will meet with the commission and Woods Hole Group again in the coming weeks to further discuss plans for how and where to address flooding.

"This really helps my thinking for how we prepare for what we've known about for years," Reed said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com