WESTERLY — Several questions were submitted by viewers during a virtual workshop Wednesday on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Pawcatuck River Coastal Storm Management Project, which is intended to reduce the potential damage of hurricanes and other severe weather events by elevating selected houses out of the flood plain and floodproofing businesses.
The project is focused on properties along the river and the ocean coast in Westerly, Charlestown, Narragansett and South Kingstown. The construction phase of the project will be cost-shared, with 65% being paid for with federal funds and 35% by the property owners. The state is currently studying ways to provide loans for homeowners who will be required to provide their 35% share before construction begins.
While federal funding for construction has not yet been approved, Byron Rupp, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager who is working on the project, said he and his colleagues are confident funding will be made available soon.
"There's a lot of interest from the federal legislative delegation in Rhode Island to fund this project," Rupp said.
The Army Corps was given authority to investigate solutions for flood control and navigation in southeastern New England by a resolution of the U.S. Senate's Committee on Public Works in 1969. A feasibility study for the project was conducted in compliance with requirements for the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 enacted in response to Superstorm Sandy.
Across the four municipalities, 247 residential structures have been identified as being potentially eligible for elevation to the Federal Emergency Management Agency base flood elevation, plus one foot, plus an intermediate sea level rise rate of 0.8 feet over the next 50 years. Houses that cannot be elevated due to construction methods might qualify for floodproofing, officials said.
The study initially looked at about 4,000 structures in the study area. Twenty-one commercial structures were identified as being potentially eligible to be floodproofed.
The structures were identified during the study, which included a cost-benefit analysis for elevating structures in the study area. Floodwalls, tide gates and soft structural measures including beach fill/nourishment were considered for Westerly but not recommended based on cost-benefit analysis results.
Cost estimates for work on houses in the study area from the feasibility study range from $131,000 to $254,000. Rupp said the cost will depend on location in the flood plain, whether a house is potentially subject to wave action and structure type. The cost estimates will be adjusted as part of the project, Rupp said.
The state is currently creating a project administrator position for the project. The administrator is expected to be a collaboration of state agencies that will handle financial aspects of the program. The administrator is expected to organize a pool of financial institutions that agree to fund loans to the homeowners, conduct pre-approval for the loans, and facilitate paying the property owners' share of individual construction projects.
The normal state Coastal Resources Management Council permitting process will apply to the elevation and floodproofing work. Justin Skenyon, a CRMC ocean engineer, said most of the elevation projects will be considered for maintenance permits, which he said are easier to receive than assents. Maintenance permits are issued for projects that do not alter the size, design, or original purpose of coastal area structures.
The owners of structures identified as being potentially eligible for the project should have received notification letters that were sent on June 16 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Rhonda Bath-Charbonneau, the project's manager. The owners were asked to submit registration documents and following verification of eligibility by the Army Corps and CRMC will later be asked to sign right of entry forms to give the Corps permission to enter properties to conduct surveys and inspections. "So a field team can do topographic surveys and other inspections," Bath-Charbonneau said.
Further evaluation of eligibility will be conducted as part of the survey and inspection process.
Once eligibility is established, design and cost estimates will be generated and made available for review and consideration by the homeowners. Federal and property owner funding would then be finalized prior to construction.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not yet decided whether to use a single or multiple contractors, officials said.