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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.
The University of Rhode Island Climate Change Collaborative Team today launched a major new website, Rhode Island’s Climate Challenge: Waves of Change, dedicated to promoting in a public-friendly way the issue of climate change at a press conference at the URI Coastal Institute on the Narragansett Bay Campus. The site is accessible at: www.RIClimateChange.org.
The Waves of Change website is designed to speak to people with varying degrees of scientific knowledge, a wide range of political and cultural opinions, and personal and professional concerns about climate change. It is also a multi-media site, using cartoons, animated videos and video interviews, as well as extensive science-backed information, to provide a user-friendly discussion and exploration of climate change for everyone from schoolchildren to business owners to the general public. The site includes a viewer-response section designed to address questions and comments from the public.
Featured speaker at the launch, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, co-chair of the national Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, said, "Rhode Islanders need the best information available as they adapt to coastal erosion, higher risk from storm surge, shifting seasons and fisheries, and other effects related to climate change. This website can be an important tool in educating our families and communities about what to expect and how to respond to the challenges of climate change."
The Collaborative has drawn on a wealth of scientific experts at URI, as well as an extended network of partners from the academic, business, social and environmental communities. All have contributed to this comprehensive website as a tool to inform and guide Rhode Islanders concerning the changes, impacts and actions anticipated and needed relative to climate change.
Judith Swift, director of the URI Coastal Institute and one of the Collaborative leaders, calls the site "an online cup of coffee with a friend who needs to wake up to the perils and opportunities of climate change."
The Climate Change Collaborative benefited from state, regional, national and international contributions as well as partnerships with RI-based videographers, composers, cartoonists, Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies, NGOs, and state agencies, among others. Particular credit goes to URI-based organizations Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Coastal Resources Center, the Graduate School of Oceanography, the Harrington School of Communication and Media, the Cancer Prevention Research Center, the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, and the Coastal Institute.
Pam Rubinoff, a coastal and climate change specialist from the URI Coastal Resources Center, a co-leader of the Collaborative work said, "Whether I am speaking with decisionmakers or teachers, they want to know what they can do about sea level rise or intense weather patterns. Waves of Change provides valuable answers."