Charlestown selected for coastal damage pilot study

Charlestown selected for coastal damage pilot study


CHARLESTOWN — The Coastal Resources Management Council has chosen Charlestown and Warwick to be part of a pilot study using a new climate change risk assessment tool called the Coastal Environmental Risk Index, or CERI.

The risk index is an online GIS-based tool that uses a combination of data sources to assess risk and calculate damage percentages for structures and infrastructure in the event of storm flooding in combination with sea level rise. The project is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate introduced the risk index at the Beach Special Area Management Plan stakeholders meeting at the URI Coastal Institute in Narragansett on Feb. 4.

“One of the challenges facing us is that we are trying to help municipalities and state agencies look at coming up with some sort of objective way of weighting risk particularly as it might potentially affect the shoreline,” he said. “Using CERI, municipalities and state agencies will be able to look at each structure and we will be able to go structure by structure, piece of infrastructure by infrastructure, and estimate the damage by any storm or sea level rise scenario.”

The index utilizes shoreline change maps from various sources including Beach SAMP coastline, surge and wave data, and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Comprehensive Coastal Study.

Because the models for other destructive forces, such as wind and structures impacting other structures, have yet to be added to the index data analysis, Fugate warned that the damage estimates may be too low.

he said. “While this is a very good planning tool for us to start to estimate and identify those areas that are truly at risk, it still underestimates the damage that might occur.”

Starting with Charlestown and Warwick, Fugate said that he hopes the project would eventually include every Rhode Island municipality.

“We’re going to be going forward to do this on a community basis,” he said. “It is our hope that we can then expand it out to the full state so that we can really get a picture of what the economic damage would be from these before it occurs and target areas that would be good for adaptation for a lot of these efforts.”

Charlestown Building Official/Flood Plain Manager Joseph Warner said the CERI pilot study will provide the town with more precise data concerning future flood levels.

“It’s going to be a number of studies and data on sea level rise and potential flooding that we can use for future planning and hazard mitigation,” he said. “We could potentially end up with more accurate data for the actual flood elevations in town.”

Warner said the project, which is expected to begin in March, is fully funded except that it will require staff time and that it will help the town prepare for the long-term effects of climate change.

“It’s no cost to the town other than staff time because we will be required to assist in the project and provide data and information when needed,” he said. “It’ll help the town out for future planning and hopefully next time the big one hits we’ll be able to rebuild more resilient.”

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