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More than 50 concerned citizens and business owners from North Kingstown recently attended a sea level rise preparedness program at the North Kingstown Community Center.
Much of North Kingstown's historic business district falls within the flood plain, as do a substantial number of historic homes. Since 2010, the town has been in a pilot project to undertake planning for adapting to climate change, with flooding being a major concern.
Through the project, funded by the R.I. Statewide Planning Program, the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant have worked with the town to develop a series of maps that identify those natural and physical assets most vulnerable to climate change impacts and to assist the town in developing policies and practices to protect these assets.
Teresa Crean, a coastal management extension specialist at the Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Coastal Resources Center (CRC), along with North Kingstown Town Planning Director Jon Reiner, and Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency's State Flood Plain Coordinator Michelle Burnett, presented information on the results of this project.
Crean emphasized that the town is already taking action to prepare for storm events and anticipated affects of sea level rise in its comprehensive plan rewrite (anticipated by the end of 2014) and in an updated hazard mitigation plan.
"The town of North Kingstown is currently a member of the Community Rating System (CRS). The town's current rating is a 9 out of 10 which allows a 5 percent reduction in flood insurance," said Crean. "A number of criteria dictate a score from FEMA. The town of North Kingstown is currently working on figuring out a way to improve from a 9 to an 8 to receive a 10 percent reduction in flood insurance."
The prevailing question from citizens was how they could be better prepared. Crean suggested to owners that by examining the flood maps provided, they could better understand their risk, be prepared, get involved, and spread the word with their neighbors.
Crean lauded RIEMA for the recent hiring of a CRS coordinator for the entire state, and the inception of a CRS user group statewide. "Communities can talk to each other about the CRS application and compare notes and get our act together, and it's the first regional user group in New England," said Crean. "So Rhode Island is really paving the way for its municipalities to get on the radar and get involved in the CRS program. We have five communities that are signed on to the program now, and the goal is to have all 21 coastal towns involved in the program."
"With nearly half of the world's population living near the water, this is not just a local issue it's a global one, and we all need to be aware of it," said Wickford waterfront resident Dr. Bob Binek. "People need to be reminded that nature is formidable. By utilizing planning and tools such as mapping, we can look at all the factors including the cause, and really think about a systematic change in how we build and live near the water."
For more information on sea level rise mapping go to:
During a major storm, homeowners can learn a lot about their property's vulnerability to flooding, as water seeps into basements, inundates septic systems, or damages structures. These threats also pose a community-wide risk to businesses, schools, hospitals, and other public buildings and infrastructure.
To help prepare Newport residents and businesses in advance of such an event, the city recently hosted a community meeting, SEA Aware, to explain the threat of flooding and sea level rise the city is likely to face.
Teresa Crean, Rhode Island Sea Grant/Coastal Resources Center extension specialist, helped the city bring agencies and organizations to the event including the R.I. Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA), Save The Bay, the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management's pier manager for State Pier #9, an important commercial fishing pier.
New statewide flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have recently been issued, and flood insurance rates have increased, and a representative from RIEMA helped participants look up their properties in the state's flood insurance database.
Crean brought detailed maps showing the vulnerability to flooding of each parcel in downtown Newport, as well as all of the area's facilities and infrastructure—including everything from critical infrastructure and RIPTA bus lines to storm drains and manhole covers. These maps showed which parcels experience, or will experience, flooding at mean higher high water (roughly, an average of the highest daily tides) at present, as well as in the event of increasing sea level rise with storm surge. The maps also showed how far inland waters came during the height of the surge of the Hurricane of '38.
The maps were created as part of an effort to replicate a R.I. Division of Planning-funded project by Sea Grant/CRC in North Kingstown. That project mapped flood-threatened areas and identified vulnerable infrastructure to prioritize future investments. The Newport project is supported by Sea Grant, the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, and the Prince Charitable Trusts.
Some attendees were concerned that while the maps gave them better information, they were not sure how to proceed to protect their property. Crean said that the mapping is just the first step in helping Newport to increase its resilience to sea level rise and flooding. The next phase of the project will involve linking the city with the statewide Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (aka Beach SAMP), and to engage the business community in Newport to understand the opportunities and challenges to adaptation along the wharves and piers of Newport harbor.
In the meantime, SEA Aware offered a handout on steps residents could take to prepare for flooding. The handout noted that the city is currently applying for status in the National Flood Insurance Program's Community Rating System, which would offer Newporters decreased premiums on their flood insurance based on actions the City is taking to reduce flood risks. After acceptance of the application by FEMA, a rating will be assigned and Newporters could see reductions in their flood insurance premiums by the middle of 2014.
Detailed maps are available for Newport at http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/climate/sealevelrise.html and for North Kingstown at http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/climate/nk_phase2.html. An interactive statewide map is also available at http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/climate/slr_tools.html (click on "Digital Elevation and Bathymetry Data Tool").
Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Coastal Resources Center are located at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.
A center at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) that helps coastal communities, both locally and worldwide, plan for the wise use of sea-based resources, such as fish stocks and offshore wind power, has secured $659,238 in grant funds for its programs. The URI Coastal Resources Center (CRC) will use the money from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for a two-year project. The project is focused on educating a wide range of experienced, as well as emerging, coastal and ocean professionals at home and abroad about the newest management techniques for planning the allocation of uses and resources in increasingly busy and crowded oceans.
"The Coastal Resources Center at URI's Graduate School of Oceanography has a long and distinguished record to bring science, management and policy studies together to address important coastal and oceanic issues," GSO Dean Bruce Corliss said. "This grant will allow CRC to help groups and institutions address critical needs in marine spatial planning and will have a significant impact on ocean sustainability in the future."
CRC, which developed for the state a celebrated and model ocean planning document, the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), is providing an innovative training program based on Ocean SAMP lessons learned to a worldwide network of ocean and coastal practitioners. Results from this project, as with all CRC projects, will subsequently inform and enhance the entire portfolio of CRC coastal and ocean management work—knowledge made available to the public.
"This grant has been provided in large part due to the breadth of practical on-the-ground experience and knowledge CRC has attained over decades of work on marine issues. This grant will assist in disseminating best practices and helping other groups and institutions to apply innovative and proven approaches for improved governance of our oceans," said Jennifer McCann, CRC U.S. Programs Director and Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program Extension Leader.
The Moore Foundation award is its second for CRC. The first, in 2012, funded an international marine spatial planning symposium based on the learnings of the Ocean SAMP process. The latest award will allow CRC to provide opportunities for national and international practitioners to learn from each other. This includes hosting another symposium and sharing CRC's process for developing the Ocean SAMP as well as the experiences of other states and regions in proactive ocean planning to protect coastal resources while maintaining and encouraging appropriate development.
"Rhode Island has been a leader in marine spatial planning thanks to the efforts of CRC, which Rhode Island Sea Grant has been proud to support. I congratulate CRC on this grant from the Moore Foundation that will help this team share best practices with professionals around the world," said Rhode Island Sea Grant Director Dennis Nixon.
The current work will assist other communities and allow Rhode Island practitioners to bring new techniques back to the state.
"We believe smart ocean planning can protect both economic interests and biological resources for generations to come," said Barry Gold, Program Director for the Moore Foundation's Marine Conservation Initiative. "Rhode Island is a leader in ocean planning, and we're excited to see how CRC can leverage their local experience to help improve sustainable management of oceans around the globe."
The Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant are located at URI's Graduate School of Oceanography. For more information on this grant, contact Sue Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.