In the late 1980s, as a gradu ate student at Harvard Kennedy School, I conducted the first housing buildout study for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. It predicted that in the next 30 years, the number of houses would double if the current rate of construction continued. The ramifications of doubling the number of houses in Edgartown would be enormous. Municipal and commercial services would need to expand to meet demand. Recreational amenities, such as public beaches, might not be sufficient. Road infrastructure could not keep pace.

The study proposed several land-use measures to moderate growth, which the people of Martha’s Vineyard acted on — working across organizations to help conserve and protect the Island.

Today, I am looking at a new challenge, perhaps the major challenge facing us in the next 30 years: how the Island deals with climate change.

The recently released Climate Action Plan (CAP) by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission provides a roadmap on how to anticipate and prepare for the threat. It is a result of an effort by members of the six towns, the Wampanoag Tribe and community partners. A copy of the plan can be found at

In addition to periods of extreme heat, droughts and intense storms, the largest sustained threat will be from sea level rise. Sea levels are expected to rise 0.6 to 1.8 feet by 2050. This increase added on to storm surges will inundate many coastal roads and the harbor towns. Repairing the damage will be costly. The CAP is divided into six interrelated thematic group areas: (1) Land use, natural resources and biodiversity, (2) Transportation, infrastructure and waste, (3) Public health and safety, (4) Economic resilience, (5) Food security, and (6) Energy transformation.

Working groups explored climatic impacts to their thematic areas and developed 20-year goals, 10-year objectives and immediate actions.

Goal number one of the CAP’s section on transportation, infrastructure and waste states: “By 2040, critical vulnerable roads and infrastructure are protected or relocated through a network that prioritizes alternative transportation and green infrastructure.”

In other words, these coastal roads must either be hardened and/or elevated or abandoned. To determine the best way forward, the towns will need to work with the MVC to establish Island-wide community values to prioritize road infrastructure in the context of other economic, environmental and social values. With this information, steps will then need to be taken to design, construct and obtain funding for these roads in order to fortify or move them.

All this will not be easy, and will require all aspects of the Island working together across platforms. But there is not an alternative. The best approach is to start now and plan for the future. After all, we’ve done it before.

Jon Harris is a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs.