Why a climate plan matters

By Steven Froias

For the New Bedford Ocean Cluster

On January 6, 2021 the City of New Bedford formally launched NB Resilient and concurrently released its climate action plan. 

Obviously, events happening in the nation’s capital that day overshadowed most if not all other news. But, the importance of this effort needs to be rescued from obscurity as it represents a milestone for the city – one that aligns nicely with the mission of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster. 

That mission would be to properly position the marine-industry resources of this port city for a looming renewable energy future – an outcome envisioned in NB Resilient. 

The goals of NB Resilient and the New Bedford Ocean Cluster travel together. Indeed, in order to reach achievable outcomes, it is almost imperative that a city like New Bedford have a public climate action plan in its toolbox as well as a private sector plan – and now it has both. 

It’s especially important as the city, region and nation finally wrestles with the promise – not just the possibility – of renewable energy. The future is finally here – and an administration in Washington that is dedicated to realizing it across the nation means municipal partners must be ready to grasp its outstretched hand. 

The climate plan NB Resilient does that. As New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell stated at its launch, “New Bedford will continue to be a leader when it comes to renewable energy, we will continue to be a leader in energy conservation, and when it comes to climate adaptations and protections, we’ll continue to lead there, too.” 

“Years from now, people will say that this was a moment when we had to step up. Let them say that we made the right choices so that they could lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.”

There are many elements of NB Resilient. For the purposes of this column, we’ll focus on those that directly impact the Port of New Bedford and the preparations that are underway to help secure its future as a center for offshore wind energy. 

Bullet points in the plan include the following:

Offshore Wind Energy Development: 

// New Bedford is the closest industrial port to the largest wind energy reserves in the United States, areas of open ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast. 

// With the state and federal government now moving to develop these waters for large offshore wind turbine farms, major industry players, including Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, have committed to using the city’s port to stage their projects.

// A key advantage of New Bedford’s port is a $100 million marine terminal built specifically to handle the heavy loads of turbine components.  Unique in North American, the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, was financed and constructed by the Commonwealth’s Clean Energy Center with support from the City.

Beyond that, NB Resilient highlights the steps the city is taking to ensure the Port of New Bedford is secure. 

Toward that end, it notes that “recognizing the effect sea level rise and storm surge could have on the Port’s infrastructure and operations, the City of New Bedford partnered with the Town of Fairhaven and the New Bedford Port Authority to create localized Resilient Design Guidelines. 

“The guidelines are intended for developers, businesses, residents, and City/Town staff members that are living or working in and around the Port of New Bedford. Whether for a public planning project, developing or redeveloping in the area, or looking to upgrade an existing structure, the guidelines provide resources and strategies on how to increase the resilience of the Port’s many assets and keep it a thriving economic hub.

Michele Paul, Director of Resilience and Environmental Stewardship for the City of New Bedford, has been working on the plan for the past few years. She writes that, “the nbresilient.com dashboard is tracking the important steps we’ve already taken, and will continue to be updated so that everyone – businesses, neighborhoods, individuals – can be a part of building a healthier, safer, and more resilient city.”

In fact, a key element of the plan as outlined on nbresilient.com is providing city and area residents with the information and tools they need to participate in an economy that offers opportunity in new industries – such as offshore wind energy. 

“Whether working directly in clean energy or the businesses that will grow up around them, several workforce initiatives are underway,” NB Resilient states under ‘Job Training’. “For those with bigger ideas, community partners such as the New Bedford Economic Development Council are ready to help bring your vision to life.”

That’s exactly where NB Resilient meets the New Bedford Ocean Cluster. Each concerns itself with preparing the region for the imminent chance to “Seize Economic Opportunities.” 

In addition to empowering individuals, both seek to enlist existing businesses and other maritime assets into a formidable force prepared to meet the moment. 

Having a city-sponsored climate action plan helps guarantee that the city and region, and all the many entities propelling it forward, will be working in concert and partnership. 

It’s especially important that local governments lead this effort  as more far-reaching plans like the Massachusetts environmental plan remain in limbo after Gov. Baker’s veto of it on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.

Long ago, it was perceived that a gentry class of landowners and business leaders guided the city’s fortunes. These were the whaling captains and mill owners of a bygone age in New Bedford. It’s a romantic notion that overlooks the fact that many were left out of the equation, and many more were exploited in society at the time. 

Today, we craft policies and enact plans to steer a true course forward. We create groups like the New Bedford Ocean Cluster to engage the greater community. 

It takes time to get it right; it takes foresight and enlightenment and an ability to look over the horizon. 

NB Resilient does that. And that’s why the City of New Bedford’s climate action and resilience plan matters. 

// If you’d like to receive more information about your marine organization, business or service becoming a part of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster, please visit NewBedfordOceanCluster.org