Protecting Historic Structures and Cultural Treasures from Rising Waters

By PEARL MACEK | Courtesy ecoRI News 

NEWPORT, R.I. — “We can’t stop it anymore,” said John Englander, an oceanographer and sea-level-rise consultant. “Everybody is struggling with this.” Englander, who wrote a book titled “High Tide on Main Street,” was just one of the 52 speakers at the recent “Keeping History Above Water” conference held at the Marriott.

Experts in city planning, architecture, historical preservation and climate change gathered for the four-day event to talk about sea-level rise, coastal flooding and their combined impact on coastal communities, specifically those with historical structures.

Organizations and universities from across Rhode Island, such as the Newport Restoration Foundation, helped organize and sponsor the event. Experts came from countries, including Iran, Scotland and the Netherlands, and from cities throughout the United States, spoke about their experiences with climate change, coastal flooding and historical preservation.

The main focus of the conference was deciding ways to preserve historical buildings from rising waters, but the overarching theme was much larger: sea-level rise and what that means for anyone living near the ocean or along tidal rivers.

Englander said sea-level rise is a problem that won’t be going away anytime soon. He said that although building seawalls, subsidizing flood insurance and restoring beaches are ways of mitigating sea-level rise in the short term, we need to realize that whole coastlines will change drastically and more or less permanently in the not-too-distant future.

“Technology is not going to stop the ocean from rising,” he said.

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