R.I. beach management plan, unveiled last week, focuses on long-term risks and adaptations

R.I. beach management plan, unveiled last week, focuses on long-term risks and adaptations

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NARRAGANSETT — The developers of the latest Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan, or Beach SAMP, unveiled the final chapters of the document at a meeting Thursday at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. Chapter 6 examines state and municipal considerations, and Chapter 7 addresses adaptation strategies.

While it is a product of the latest scientific data and tools, the beach plan is also based on the same principles of transparency and public consultation that were instrumental in the success of its predecessor, the Ocean SAMP. That management plan is credited with paving the way for the construction of the Block Island Wind Farm.

The focus of the new Beach SAMP is risk: assessing hazards to the Rhode Island coast from storms and sea-level rise and the ways communities and property owners can adapt to them. 

Coastal Resources Management Council Executive Director Grover Fugate, who introduced the new chapters, said government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency have formulated mitigation plans based on current conditions, which do not reflect what is expected to happen in the coming decades.

“They do not anticipate future conditions,” he said. “They don’t contain the information that you need to build for future conditions. That’s where the Beach SAMP provides that information.”

The management plan is a flexible document that has been designed to adapt to conditions as they change.

“It is intended to guide applicants and others in this assessment of risk and the conditions that we have and then lay out a process for applicants to follow as they make it through our application process,” Fugate said.

“In addition to that, we will be developing a component in our regulatory program that will require applicants to go through that.”

Coastal Resources Center Research Associate Teresa Crean presented Chapter 6, which explores the idea of the state enabling legislation and regulatory strategies that coastal municipalities can employ to become more resilient.

“Where can we think about where Rhode Island general laws can be revised to enable municipal governments to follow through with some of the recommendations that are coming out of the Beach SAMP, with the CRMC leading by example?” she said. 

Crean noted that many towns do not have the staff to evaluate different development proposals, so the management plan proposes narrowing down the list of proposals requiring additional oversight and also enlisting the expertise of the CRMC.

“Can we start with, as a first phase, identifying only certain types of projects that would trigger this process at the municipal scale?” she said.

She characterized the process as “Holding pre-application site-plan meetings that could also bring in resources from CRMC to consider the design life of the proposed development, identify a date that relates to future conditions that the applicant is planning for, looking at future flood and erosion scenarios … and addressing uncertainty.”

Coastal Resources Center Marine Research Associate Tiffany Smythe, a co-author of the beach plan, presented Chapter 7, which describes adaptation strategies and tools for owners of coastal properties.

The CRMC favors natural property adaptation measures that include bank reinforcement using natural materials, living breakwaters such as clam and oyster reefs, dune restoration and beach nourishment and the creation or enhancement of coastal wetlands.

“We do talk about flood walls on a smaller scale, or even temporary flood barriers,” Smythe noted. “We also talk about floodgates and tide gates, which are designed to close in anticipation of a storm or a high tide, and then berms, which are really an embankment that can protect a development.”

In addition to building with storms, storm surge and erosion in mind, coastal property owners can weather-proof existing homes.

One of the measures is known as wet flood-proofing, which allows a building to get wet without causing permanent damage.

Another measure, dry flood-proofing, keeps water out.

“This involves installing impermeable building materials or sealants, watertight doors or windows,” Smythe explained.

Under the Fortified Home program, an initiative of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, buildings can also be retrofitted to varying degrees so they can better withstand water and wind.

Fugate described the coming decades as being a period of rapid change that bond-rating services like Moody’s are paying close attention to.

“This is going to be, for the next 30, 40 years at least, a very rapidly-changing field,” he said.

“We already have Moody’s warning municipalities that if they don’t take climate change into account and they don’t start to deal with it from both a planning and infrastructure level, they will downgrade their bond ratings … This is a moving target right now for us, and we’re going to have to remain very flexible.”

The two chapters are now open for public comment, which will close on April 8. The chapters are available at: http://www.beachsamp.org/management/plan.






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