102819 WES King tides flooding 85.JPG

King tides routinely cause flooding of parking lot near WHYC and portions of Bay Street in Watch Hill and stretches of Atlantic Avenue from high water in Winnapaug Pond on Monday, October 28, 2019. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Coastal Resources Management Council will conduct a virtual public workshop Wednesday night to discuss a project aimed at reducing the risk of storm damage by elevating coastal properties in Westerly, Charlestown, Narragansett, and South Kingstown.

The project area includes a series of coastal barrier beaches that front seven coastal ponds.

The storm risk reduction effort, formally known as the Pawcatuck River Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, follows a final feasibility and environmental assessment study report released in February 2018 that identifies structures potentially eligible for participation in the project. The total value of the existing residential and commercial inventory in the study area is estimated at more than $600 million, according to the report.

Due to a more dense development in Westerly, the study looked beyond in property elevation and also considered structural measures such as floodwalls, tide gates and soft structural measures including beach fill/nourishment. Evaluation of the costs and benefits of the measures aside from elevation exceeded the benefits of elevation, according to the report.

The coastal storm risk management plan that was developed during the feasibility study is intended to reduce damages associated with hurricanes and coastal storms by implementing risk reduction strategies including elevating or flood-proofing eligible structures. 

A total of 268 properties in Charlestown, South Kingstown, Narragansett and Westerly were identified as being eligible during the feasibility phase of the project. Of those properties, 247 were identified for elevation and 21 for flood proofing.

Properties eligible for elevation included 49 structures in Westerly; 45 structures in Charlestown; 72 structures in South Kingstown; and 81 structures in Narragansett. A total of 21 primarily commercial structures, including six in Westerly, were identified for flood proofing. Those properties include large multi-story hotels, sheet metal buildings, and brick-on-concrete slab buildings.

Of an estimated $531,372,000 in potential damages in the study area, the initial plan would eliminate $236,556,000 of the potential damage, or 45%, by applying the elevation and flood proofing strategies to just 7% of structures in the study area, according to the report.

The project area includes a coastal stretch of about 28 miles through the towns and also includes properties along the Pawcatuck River.

Authorization and funding for the project was approved under the federal Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, which was enacted in response to Superstorm Sandy, which caused mandatory evacuations in eight communities in Rhode Island. The highest concentration of damage from the storm was in  Westerly, Charlestown, Narragansett, New Shoreham, Newport, South Kingstown, and North Kingstown.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal agency implementing the project, and the non-federal sponsor is the state Coastal Resources Management Council. Participation in the project is voluntary and construction costs will be cost shared between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who will fund 65%. Structure owners will be responsible for the 35% non-federal share through a financing process that is currently under development with the state.

The project is currently in the design phase which is estimated to be completed by the end of the year. Design costs are 100% federally funded and structure owners will not be asked to provide funding until the construction phase of the project begins.

The design phase includes contacting the structure owners identified in the feasibility phase that are interested in proceeding and conducting property-specific surveys and engineering analyses to determine structure eligibility for the construction phase of the project.

The workshop can be viewed and joined at 6 p.m. on Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83485045618?pwd=TTJzUkNzdm8rcDdHRUU1L08zMEpMQT09. The meeting identification number is  834 8504 5618 and the pass code is 570740. The workshop will also be available by calling 929-205-6099. The same identification and pass code numbers should be used for phone access.

For more information, contact Project Manager Rhonda Bath-Charbonneau by email to Rhonda.l.bath@usace.army.mil

This edition includes the time of the workshop scheduled for Wednesday.

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