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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Charlestown could be eligible for grants for "resilience"

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff


Photo by Will Collette
Two new pools of money are drawing considerable interest from communities and groups hoping to protect Rhode Island from the climate crisis.

The Ocean State is feeling and seeing the impacts of global warming: surface temperatures are heating up faster than any other in the contiguous United States and have exceeded the U.N. threshold of 2 degrees Celsius; rainfall, flooding, and erosion are more frequent and intense.

To address the worsening conditions, voters approved $10 million to address the climate crisis through the 2018 Green Economy and Clean Water Bond. 

The money will be divided equally among new two funds: one to protect wastewater treatment facilities and another for preserving coastal and riverine areas.

Despite the relatively modest initial investments both funds are expected to receive additional infusions of money through future bond referendums and other sources, according to state officials.
Nonprofits and state and municipal entities can use the climate resilience funds for projects that adapt to severe weather events. 

Projects can include nature-based solutions, as well as the removal, relocation, and remodeling of threatened buildings, culverts, dams, and roads. The projects must be located in coastal or riverine areas and address climate impacts such as sea-level rise, increased precipitation, and warming temperatures.

Nature-based “green infrastructure” projects rely on vegetation to limit and repair erosion and storm damage in coastal and riparian ecosystems.


The wastewater treatment facility resiliency fund will be be managed by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. The agency will pay government entities up to 50 percent of the cost for building protective walls, waterproofing equipment, and raising or relocating equipment for inland and coastal wastewater infrastructure. 

The projects must be physical solutions to “climate-driven challenges” that show a connection between the climate crisis and its expected impacts. The fund will not pay for scientific research, data analysis, or vulnerability assessments.

The climate resilience fund will finance up to 75 percent for projects that include acquisition of land. The land purchase, however, is limited to half a project’s cost. Projects that only involve a land purchase aren’t eligible.

Proposals will be ranked on 10 criteria, such as adherence to the state adaptation plan, Resilient Rhody, improving equity in social justice areas, and public access to natural areas.

Review and approval of grants from both funds will be done by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

There was no objections to the proposals for the two programs during an Oct. 16 hearing at DEM. More than a dozen groups from government agencies and nonprofits, such as the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, attended the hearing.

“We’re hoping that this money is going to fly out the door,” said John Manning of DEM’s Office of Air Resources. “There is going to be a hue and cry to get more resiliency money.”

Bill Patenaude, principal engineer with DEM’s Office of Water Resources, said he has received a lot of interest from municipalities looking to improve wastewater treatment plants.

Five communities — Barrington, Portsmouth, South Kingstown, Warren, and Westerly — are likely applicants for the funds. These coastal towns are some of the most at risk in the state from flooding, storm surge, and sea-level rise. 

They are also the initial participants in the Municipal Resilience Program, an effort run by The Nature Conservancy and the Infrastructure Bank to identify nature-based and man-made adaptation projects.

Public comment on the regulations for the funds can be submitted until Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. Comments on the wastewater treatment rules go to Patenaude at bill.patenaude@dem.ri.gov. Comments on the climate resilience projects fund go to Elizabeth Stone at elizabeth.stone@dem.ri.gov.

If the regulations are approved, requests for project proposals are expected next month. Public workshops on both programs are expected to be held in January.