NORTH KINGSTOWN—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be giving a boost to North Kingstown’s efforts in analyzing climate change, announcing last week that it will send a consulting team to Rhode Island as part of its Smart Growth program to examine the economic impacts of environmental issues such as sea level rise and natural disasters.
North Kingstown, already participating in a pilot program in partnership with the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center (CRC), welcomes the help towards better understanding how climate change affects local communities, in this case economically.
“Technical assistance projects like this one allow us to have the expertise to fully vet and determine solutions for issues such as this with the needed expertise,” said Director of Planning Jon Reiner. “We are very fortunate that we will have experts to assist us in these efforts.”
“This information will assist the town in our existing efforts analyzing sea level rise/climate change, and will inform us for future decisions for infrastructure spending, and the development of our local comprehensive plan,” he added.
North Kingstown is one of only three communities throughout the country to receive the EPA assistance. The consulting team will work through the Rhode Island Statewide Planning division, although no federal dollars will be received for North Kingstown’s project.
Teresa Crean, coastal manager at CRC, spoke about how this added assistance will augment the pilot program on climate change, which has already been introduced to the North Kingstown public and aims to detail the specific impacts of issues such as sea level rise on areas such as Wickford Village and the Port of Quonset.
“Getting this grant is a huge deal, and we really are encouraged and excited that nationally what we are doing in Rhode Island is getting recognized,” said Crean. “We are catching the attention of a national audience. Being one of three awarded speaks to the momentum that we have built and that we are crafting potentially useful lessons to people.”
In 2011, CRC performed data collection of the town’s coastline and created elevation maps which display historical storm water marks, such as for the Hurricane of 1938, as well as predicting future sea levels. Such efforts have been used to identify areas of possible vulnerability as sea levels rise. The pilot program, which is possible through a $100,000 state planning grant, relies upon this information as a base and will go through various phases as its nears completion.
“This project is comprehensive, and with each phase we are learning where the data gaps are,” said Crean. “Other questions are coming up where you may not have thought about it in a previous stage, which is the great thing about a pilot project.”
“It is about building the portfolio of all these issues that will be built into a comprehensive program to address these things proactively,” she added.
Although the make-up of the consultant team and the various participants’ expertises are not yet known, Crean believes that an outside party can be helpful in informing the economic impact of climate change study from an objective viewpoint.
“It does work to have outside consultants to come in so long as you have a local steering committee to make sure they know the nuances of the different stakeholders that we are dealing with,” said Crean.
Crean also highlighted the reasoning behind selecting North Kingstown for both the EPA assistance and the CRC’s climate change pilot program, stating that the town has a number of different environments which may be impacted by natural weather events and sea level rise.
“North Kingstown was chosen because it has a good diversity of land uses along its coastline, as well as direct impacts of tidal inundation in the town center,” said Crean. “Climate change is really on [North Kingstown’s] doorstep, and your staff, Jon and his crew, is really savvy. They were able to get this work done on time with limited planning resources.”
According to a report released last fall by the CRC and URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, sea level rises are projected to increase by three to five feet by 2100, and possibly a one foot rise by 2050. Since 1930, sea level along Rhode Island’s coastline has increased by an average of an inch a decade.
Phase two, which is ongoing, aims to help North Kingstown in developing its natural hazards and climate change element in the upcoming comprehensive plan update. $15,000 of the total $100,000 Statewide Planning Challenge Grant will be dedicated to the town for phase two.
The initiative will also produce a list of prioritized transportation and land use projects which would benefit from the climate change adaption program and can be incorporated into the state’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), as well as the town’s capital improvements.
“The idea here is to begin understanding the current conditions and potential long term planning impacts of sea level rise and to proactively adapt to changing conditions,” said Crean. “This is not fear-based, but we are looking at the best available science to assist the municipalities in Rhode Island.”
Reiner and Crean praised the project’s intended purpose to become a blueprint document for communities throughout Rhode Island for addressing climate change impacts in the future.
“We are not alone in these efforts,” said Reiner. “Many municipalities are going through similar efforts town wide in reviewing sea level rise/climate change, and solutions to our future problems or barriers need to be addressed.”
No timetable has been set at this point for when the consultant team begins their work in North Kingstown.