NORTH KINGSTOWN – The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank recently announced the recipients of this year’s Resilient Rhody Municipal Resilience Program. 

One of the communities participating this year is North Kingstown.

The Municipal Resilience Program (MRP) provides direct support to cities and towns to complete a municipal-driven process that will “bring together climate change information and local knowledge to identify top hazards, current challenges, and community strengths. This process will identify priority projects and strategies to improve the municipality’s resilience to all natural and climate-related hazards using a flexible, tested approach called Community Resilience Building (CRB),” the program’s website states. 

Once a municipality successfully completes the process they are then designated as a “Resilient Rhody Municipality”. By being given that designation municipalities are able to apply for dedicated action grants to implement identified projects. The municipality is required to make a 25 percent match to grant. 

Shaun O’Rourke, managing director of program and business development at the Infrastructure Bank explained that one of the main reasons why the program came about is because cities and towns realized that they needed money to help tackle climate change concerns in their communities, as well as guidance on what the top priorities should be. 

“The majority of infrastructure and assets at risk to climate change in Rhode Island are owned and managed by municipalities, but these communities often lack the staff capacity, funding, and expertise to plan and prioritize resilience projects,” said Shaun O’Rourke, managing director of program and business development at the Infrastructure Bank and the state’s chief resiliency officer. “Rising sea levels, increasing heat, and extreme storm events will have long-term effects on local infrastructure and residents. The Municipal Resilience Program is collaboratively building a statewide pipeline of priority projects with municipalities to more effectively and efficiently respond to these climate impacts that we are already experiencing.”

One of the things that also takes place through the process is a workshop through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy. 

“MRP facilitators are trained to provide technical assistance to communities in completing the assessment and resiliency plan using the Community Resilience Building Framework,” the website states.

Like most things with the pandemic, the way the workshops took place has also been different this year.

Sue AnderBois, the Climate and Energy Program Manager for The Nature Conservancy explained that they moved to an online model for the workshops. 

“Last year, we pivoted to an on-line workshop format, given the realities of COVID. We suspect that for at least some of the workshops this year, that format will continue, given the on-going pandemic. But we worked to ensure that the experience was still interactive,” AnderBois said in an email. “We added additional tools – like pre and post surveys, mapping tools, and we relied heavily on small groups facilitated by trained staff (from TNC, RIIB, and other partner organizations such as URI and DEM).”

AnderBois also explained that because the voters in Rhode Island voted yes on the “Green Bond” question last week there is now more money available for the program. 

“We are also very excited by the overwhelming support for the Green Bond, which passed last week with 78 percent yes votes,” AnderBois stated. “The bond contained $7 million for the MRP, which will allow RIIB to continue providing action grants to municipalities who participate to help kick off their efforts.”

O’Rourke echoed the same sentiment about the results. 

“We were thrilled with the turnout and we were thrilled with the result,” O’Rourke said. 

It was explained by North Kingstown Director of Planning and Development Nicole LaFontaine that they have done a lot of resiliency work over the years, however, they saw the opportunity to be a part of the program as a way to involve the community and make it a community driven project. 

“We’re very excited to do this. We’ve been working on resiliency issues for a long time,” LaFontaine said. 

She explained that by participating in the program and being able to receive grant funding for different projects they will be able to  make needed updates to some of its infrastructure. 

LaFontaine also explained that they are looking forward to being able to bring targeted stakeholders to meet together remotely to help educate different staff members and community members about different issues like flooding in their community. This is something she said they haven’t been able to do before. Some of the stakeholders will include staff from different departments along with members in the community. 

While they are still working out the details, after recently being notified of being accepted into the program, LaFontaine said they are excited to get to work to help address important issues in the community. 

“To be able to put this all together and be able to implement all our ideas together is definitely a good step in the right direction,” LaFontaine said. 

Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank CEO Jeffrey Diehl explained that they are excited to work with municipalities across the state to help come up with solutions to tackle climate change. 

“The Infrastructure Bank is committed to working with our municipal partners to accelerate investment in critical infrastructure and nature-based solutions that better prepare Rhode Island communities for a changing climate” said Diehl.  “We look forward to building on the success of the first two rounds of the program and strengthening relationships with communities statewide to proactively identify the resources needed to make needed resilience projects happen.”

O’Rourke said that the goal is to be able to have all 39 cities and towns participate in the program at some point. 

“Our goal is to have 100 percent participation,” O’Rourke said.

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