Block Island is a unique, isolated landscape with marshes, beaches, and bluffs exposed to the forces of the Atlantic Ocean. Because of limited resources and space, residents here are more aware of the impacts from sea level rise and severe storms, and the importance of adaptive planning.
Concerned citizens, public officials, and planners gathered on October 22 for a working session on adaptive planning for coastal hazards. They learned about efforts in a North Kingstown pilot project that addressed, among other issues, flooding in downtown Wickford. The pilot project, developed under the Shoreline Change Special Management Plan (Beach SAMP), demonstrated lessons that could be applied to Block Island, such as the use of StormTools to identify vulnerable infrastructure in a variety of sea-level rise and storm-surge scenarios.
Adaptation strategies for municipal comprehensive plans and hazard mitigation plans, such as identifying areas of risk or developing a database of properties and infrastructure that are exposed to sea level rise and flooding, were presented by coastal management extension specialists Teresa Crean and Michelle Carnevale from Sea Grant and the Coastal Resources Center, R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council Executive Director Grover Fugate, and Bryan Oakley, a coastal geologist and assistant professor at Eastern Connecticut State University.
“The intent today is to be action-oriented, to try to craft adaptation strategies for Block Island,” said Carnevale.
Crean added that Beach SAMP efforts assessing vulnerable assets are taking place in six of the state’s coastal municipalities.
But participants were well aware of what was vulnerable on the island as demonstrated by damages to Corn Neck Road, the only connection to the north part of the island, restricting access to residents, as well as extensive beach erosion from Superstorm Sandy. Shortly after Sandy, a sea level rise adaptation study to develop “mapping that indicates the impact of various sea level rise and storm surge scenarios on the harbors and village areas, structural engineering concepts to address the impact of this rising sea level on the island’s marine infrastructure, and contingency plans to respond to the potential inundation of the connecting roadways and bridges,” was completed.
“[We’re] ahead of the game here,” said Crean, explaining that Block Island was further along than most coastal communities in thinking about and adding climate change and natural hazard adaptations to comprehensive plans.
“Mitigation is very important,” said Fugate in an article in the Block Island Times. While planning occurs on both the federal and state levels, Fugate said that the states were ahead of the federal government in planning, and Rhode Island was one of the most proactive. “Rhode Island is out in front on this one.”
Although the focus of the meeting was to provide greater information on planning strategies and policy, residents and planners were ready for solutions. Their questions included:
- How can we alleviate damage to the dunes and protect public access?
- How can we protect Corn Neck Road?
- How can we protect the Great Salt Pond from storm surge inundation?
- Where will stormwater go?
- How can we protect the breakwater, ferry, sewer plant and the new substations for the Block Island Wind Farm?
- Do we relocate?
“What we’re hearing today is it’s all of your infrastructure, not just transportation. To get things done, we need to start honing in,” said Crean, explaining that while her team and the Beach SAMP can provide the tools, it’s ultimately up to the towns to identify projects.
Meredith Haas | Rhode Island Sea Grant Communications