Newport: Waterfront Future

Newport Sea Level Rise Maps  |  Partners and Funders

Teresa Crean
(401) 874-6626
Pam Rubinoff
(401) 874-6135








The historic Newport waterfront is a renowned hub for tourism and marine trades. This rich cultural heritage and waterfront economy is threatened by a rising sea and increased flooding.

Newport’s tide gauge has shown a 9-inch increase in sea level since 1930, a level that is expected to reach an additional 3 to 5 feet by the end of the century. This increase in sea level will result in increased flooding from higher tides and intense storms.

Rhode Island Sea Grant is working with Newport’s waterfront businesses to understand risks, develop strategies, and identify adaptation actions to improve their resilience so that they can bounce back quickly when extreme tides and weather strike. Rhode Island Sea Grant also worked in collaboration with the city and the University of Rhode Island to develop maps that illustrate areas vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme storm events. Water-dependent businesses along the harbor’s edge that contribute valuable revenues to Newport’s economy must begin to implement measures to withstand future coastal hazard impacts.

This project builds upon the city’s momentum to understand and communicate sea level rise risks and identify innovative solutions.



Waterfront businesses recognized the need to start adapting their facilities to withstand flooding, but did not have the access to materials and resources to make the first steps.

Rhode Island Sea Grant secured a panel of adaptation experts who conducted vulnerability assessments for three Newport waterfront businesses, and provided them with tailored recommendations so they can start protecting their assets from floods caused by sea level rise and storms.

RESULTS: Rhode Island Sea Grant’s panel of experts provided the on-site assessments to the businesses which included practical first steps, as well as recommendations for further work, that the companies could take on the path to adaptation. Each of the three businesses – models for other companies – implemented some of the early adaptation actions, and all indicate they plan to carry out further protection actions.

The City of Newport has considerable “working waterfront” that is of both historic and cultural value but existing guidance for future development did not adequately consider this importance relative to perceived economic gain from new and/or replacement development along the waterfront area. There was high probability that working waterfront of historic and cultural value would be lost, most likely forever, if future development proceeded status quo.

Sea Grant, in collaboration with the City of Newport, developed the Newport Harbor Walk, which identifies the historically and culturally important areas and resources along the waterfront, and contains guidance for development and redevelopment to ensure the sustainability of these resources into the future.

RESULTS: Significant historic and/or cultural assets located along the waterfront in the City of Newport will be protected and preserved into the future, and will serve as keystones for future development and act as assets to economic growth and sustainability.

Municipal planning and development initiatives between the three municipalities of Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth, all located on an island ecosystem in Narragansett Bay, were not coordinated in any fashion, often leading to conflicting endpoints, particularly at abutting boundaries.

Sea Grant, as part of a long-term project that began with the creation of a vision document for the three municipalities in 1999 followed by the initiative of a Special Area Management Planning (SAMP) process, led the three municipalities in a collaborative public process that resulted in the development of the Aquidneck Island SAMP. This plan, which is an ecosystem-based management plan, sets the stage for consistency in both short- and long-term development goals that fosters collaboration between townships. Furthermore, the SAMP considers the island a unique ecosystem, and the regulations and guidance contained in the plan reflect management of the ecosystem on a sustainable basis while allowing further economic development and growth.

RESULTS: The Aquidneck Island SAMP Coastal Development section was formally adopted by the three municipalities, and has been adopted by the state CZM program and approved by NOAA to ensure consistency in management across regulatory jurisdictions. This portion of the plan is now being used as an overarching guidance document for further coastal development and planning, using the rubric of ecosystem-based management. Long-term results are expected be more sustainable economic growth of the municipalities as constrained by the ecosystem of which they are a part. Plan sections on Habitat Resources, and Recreational Resources, are in review by the state CZM agency.

Rhode Island state and local government are increasingly aware that coastal communities are threatened by erosion and flooding, which can accompany storms and sea level rise, but they lack the staff and financial resources necessary to secure new scientific data and adaptation planning expertise to protect people and property.

Rhode Island Sea Grant provided the state and municipalities with new climate change science, mapping tools, and policy recommendations so coastal communities can protect themselves against flooding and erosion associated with sea level rise and strong storms. Rhode Island Sea Grant is partnering with our researchers to collect and analyze new shoreline data, the creation of new tools – such as the STORMTOOLS online coastal mapping application and the Rhode Island Coastal Property Guide handbook – and the provision of expert adaptation and technical assistance so the state and local government could start community protection planning.

RESULTS: North Kingstown and Newport are actively using the tools and data we provided them to develop plans that will help them adapt to sea level rise and storm flooding and erosion.





City of Newport
Newport County Chamber of Commerce
Prince Charitable Trusts
Van Beuren Charitable Foundation
Rhode Island Foundation