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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Teresa Tanzi and Deb Ruggiero hope legislation will help protect coast

Bill would create Coastal Adaptation Fund to protect infrastructure

Coastal shorelines are vital to the economy of Rhode Island and its cities and towns. The tourism, real estate and seafood industries depend on the coast, marshes and open space, all of which are being threatened by erosion from rising seas and storms. 

The urgency to protect our coastal assets for our economy and quality of life is the reason that Rep. Deborah Ruggiero has sponsored the Coastal Adaptation Fund.

The legislation (2017-H 5808) establishes the Rhode Island Coastal Adaptation Trust Fund through a 5-cent-per-barrel surcharge on petroleum products, and uses the money for grants to cities and towns for the design, planning and construction of climate change adaptation projects for public infrastructure, as well as funding coastal and estuarine habitat restoration. 

Representative Ruggiero is working in conjunction with Save the Bay on the bill.



“Our coastline is critical to our identity, our economy and our culture in Rhode Island. Because it’s where people want to be, it’s historically where we’ve built our communities and where many of their greatest resources in terms of infrastructure tend to be concentrated. We must be proactive and step up our efforts to protect those resources from flooding and damage before we lose them, and this is one way to help Rhode Island communities do just that,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).

“Also, businesses need stability. Investments to prevent increased flooding will help provide reassurance for those near the shore. And businesses — as well as all taxpayers — all need to know their taxes aren’t going to suddenly skyrocket because their community has to embark on expensive projects to replace public properties that weren’t protected from foreseeable degradation and destruction. Businesses invest in protecting their own assets and appreciate and stay in communities that make investments to protect public assets.”

Under the bill, the new fund could be used to provide cities and towns grants to adapt infrastructure on public land to protect it from the damages of rising sea levels, storm surge, flooding and coastal erosion.

Projects could include things like removal, relocation, and redesign of infrastructure, regrading of banks and revegetation, acquisition of that area of land necessary to maintain public access and preserving or securing lateral access along the shoreline.

A technical advisory committee with representation from the Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Council, the State Planning Council and Rhode Island Emergency Management Authority would determine which projects would be funded.

The legislation also would send $250,000 each year from the proceeds to the existing Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund, which helps restore the salt marshes that are vital to the state’s commercial and recreational fishing industries.

Salt marshes are nurseries for fish and feeding grounds and nesting areas for birds, and they act as a natural sponge during flooding.

According to Save the Bay, southern New England is losing a greater percentage of marshes than the fast-eroding Mississippi Delta, with damaging impacts on shellfish and the fishing industry. Their disappearance also increases flooding of homes and businesses. 

The 5-cent-a-barrel surcharge on petroleum products translates to about 1/10 of one cent per gallon at the gasoline pump, so the effect on drivers would be about penny per tank. But it would add up to an estimated total of $2 million a year for adaptation around the state.

Adaptation projects would be investments that save the public money in terms of avoiding disasters that affect lives as well as public and private property, reducing risk and insurance costs for municipalities and increasing the lifespan of public infrastructure.

The fund could be used to enhance coastal public properties, such as India Point Park in Providence, Rocky Point in Warwick, King’s Beach in Newport, that need work done to remain valuable assets to their communities.

Making public infrastructure reliable for the future also has a positive effect on Rhode Island communities’ ability to attract and retain businesses, said Representative Ruggiero.

Using the fund for municipal projects will meet a critical need, said Representative Ruggiero, since most city and town budgets have been stretched very thin and have little room for the sort of projects the fund would finance.

Implementing these projects also creates jobs for Rhode Islanders, by providing work for landscapers, environmental engineers and construction workers, she said.

She added that the proposed slashing of federal funds for environmental protection makes it even more critical for the state to identify other means of funding efforts to defend against the damage of rising seas.

In May 2016, a House commission that studied the economic risk Rhode Island faces as a result of sea rise made a number of recommendations about increasing efforts statewide to protect public and private property from destruction.

With over 400 miles of coastline, Rhode Island has substantial public and private assets along the coast and floodplain. Twenty of Rhode Island’s cities and town lie below the floodplain. 

The House commission’s report pointed to Federal Emergency Management Agency data showing that 15,380 flood policies were written in Rhode Island as of September 2015, insuring property worth over $3.8 billion.

The legislation was introduced March 1 and is cosponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport). Identical legislation (2017-S 0442) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston).