Beach SAMP Shares Progress With Stakeholders

 

Coastweeks coastal tour of Napatree Point highlights erosion impacts and restoration efforts.

Coastweeks coastal tour of Napatree Point highlights erosion impacts and restoration efforts.

Damage from coastal storms and the anticipation of sea level rise has dramatically increased public interest in what can be done to mitigate shoreline impacts. The Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (also known as Beach SAMP) is expanding the tools and research necessary to prepare the Ocean State for impending sea level rise. Beach SAMP is a collaborative effort of the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), the URI Coastal Resources Center (CRC) and Rhode Island Sea Grant. It has been described as “a living, adaptable document.” The project members have been collecting relevant contemporary data on shoreline change through a wide variety of research efforts and have worked to share their findings with the public and local governments.

On July 14th, Beach SAMP leaders held a stakeholder meeting to present the draft outline of the management plan, share details on the public process, and give updates on ongoing research and tool development.

“We wanted this meeting to be geared specifically on updating everyone on what we’ve been developing,” said Michelle Carnevale, extension specialist for Rhode Island Sea Grant and the URI Coastal Resources Center. “We also wanted to ensure that coastal municipalities around the state were aware of what the Beach SAMP is producing to help them inform their decision making.”

At the forefront of the Beach SAMP’s public education and outreach campaign has been the development of STORMTOOLS, an online service that shows homeowners the impacts of sea level rise and major storm events by modelling the effects of surging water across an interactive map. While this service has proven to be highly valuable for the public, Beach SAMP members have been working to promote STORMTOOLS as a new aid for coastal managers and planners. Some future expansions for these users will include availability of the new Coastal Resilience Index, a feature that analyzes potential storm event impacts on specific shoreline areas and assigns a numeric index score which measures vulnerability. Additional mapping improvements for items such as population density and emergency management will also be included in future updates.

“We’re really trying to make this program much more user friendly so that anyone can understand their risk,” said Carnevale, “but at the same time, this tool is powerful enough to be really useful to local decision makers and practitioners.”

Beach SAMP research projects have been ongoing in a variety of fronts and several SAMP researchers were on hand to share updates with stakeholders. Brian Oakley, professor of environmental earth science at Eastern Connecticut State University and Jon Boothroyd, professor emeritus of geosciences at URI, gave a combined update on recent coastal monitoring efforts. The shoreline change maps, a collection that documents coastal change in Rhode Island, will be updated from a 2007 edition to a newly available 2014 edition. Those maps are available to the public here via the CRMC. The team aims to continue its work monitoring beach elevation along the southern shore in areas such as Misquamicut State Beach and Block Island. With more data on local sediment transport and shoreline erosion, Oakley and Boothroyd hope to improve the capabilities of projecting shoreline changes into the future.

“We will always have storms,” said Oakley “And storms will continue to generate shoreline change.”

Temporary structures in Misquamicut, post-Superstorm Sandy

Temporary Structures in Misquamicut, post-Superstorm Sandy

James Boyd and Caitlin Chaffee of CRMC gave a brief summary of their work on the Rhode Island Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) as well as the outlook for upcoming marsh restoration efforts around the state. The new SLAMM model maps presented by Boyd show a statewide analysis of tidal marsh vulnerabilities in relation to sea level rise and major storm events. That series of maps is available online here via the CRMC. In addition to mapping,  Chaffee described how new methods of salt marsh restoration will be used in targeted areas this coming fall.  The mechanized dispersal of new sediment materials will be carried out in the hopes of raising elevation and increasing vegetation in proposed project areas such as Quonochontaug Pond in Charlestown, where the growth of marsh vegetation has dwindled. Optimally these efforts would enhance the resiliency of tidal marsh areas.

The table of contents for two volumes of the management plan were displayed publicly and opened to comments. Volume One of the document outlines local areas at risk from erosion and sea level rise, adaptation strategies, and the legal issues surrounding the plan. Volume Two highlights the plan’s technical research reports and an overview of the changes to the CRMC regulatory process resulting from the Beach SAMP. “This is going to be a guidance document,” said Grover Fugate, executive director of the CRMC. Just as the shifting sands of the Rhode Island coastline continue to change and adapt, so too will the plan shift in order to meet the needs of responsible, effective adaptation. “We will have to continue to monitor and update this document on a very rapid basis,” added Fugate, “because the changes and predictions we are seeing are also changing very rapidly.”

The draft outline and table of contents for the plan can also be viewed online here. These documents are available for public comment submission until August 31st, 2015.

If you missed the stakeholder meeting, you can catch up on what was discussed by viewing the presentation slides here.

 

Evan Ridley | Sea Grant Science Communications Intern and Marine Affairs Graduate student at the University of Rhode Island