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Thursday, January 18, 2024

Charlestown teamwork

Rep. Spears, Sen. Gu introduce coastal resiliency bill

Rep. Tina Spears and Sen. Victoria Gu are sponsoring legislation to mandate the creation and maintenance of a statewide coastal resiliency plan, the Act on Coasts. The plan will assess community vulnerabilities, recommend mitigation strategies along ocean and riverine coasts, and recommend financing strategies to implement these resiliency strategies.

“Rising sea levels aren’t just coming – they are already here,” said Representative Spears (D-Dist. 36 Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly). “The question is what we plan to do in response. This bill will ensure that the state climate resiliency plan accounts for mitigation and resiliency efforts along all our coasts and waterways.”

The 2021 Act on Climate already mandates a statewide climate change resiliency plan. This legislation adds a dedicated coastal resiliency plan to that mandate and ensures that it be reviewed and updated at least every two years, as coastal conditions in Rhode Island change and mitigation strategies evolve.

“In the past six months we’ve seen repeated and severe flooding and erosion along our coasts and rivers statewide. We have to do more to adapt so that we don’t lose the places we love in South County,” said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown). 

“While work is already underway across the state to mitigate these adverse effects, we need to integrate all the federal, municipal, and state efforts into a comprehensive and actionable plan.”

Representative Spears introduced the bill (2024-H 7022) in the House on January 5. Senator Gu will shortly introduce the same bill in the Senate.

The bill would also create an advisory board on coastal resiliency made up of appointees with experience in relevant fields detailed in the bill, including insurance, flood management, land use planning, riverine geology, environmental organization, and real estate. The board will advise the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) on coastal resiliency, assist in the creation of the coastal resilience plan, and act as a facilitator of communication between the EC4 and the public, and vice versa.

“This recent string of severe coastal storms should be a wakeup call to all Rhode Islanders: we urgently need a serious climate resilience strategy for Narragansett Bay and our coasts,” said Topher Hamblett, executive director of Save The Bay. “Well before these storms, we have been monitoring higher tides, severe erosion and the rapid loss of salt marshes, which are the nurseries of life in the bay. This bill puts coastal resilience on the front burner, where it belongs.”

The plan mandated by the bill will incorporate the investments that have already been made or committed by federal, state and local government to avoid both redundant work and areas falling through the cracks of resiliency planning.

“Rhode Island municipalities are already experiencing the effects of climate change through more intense storms, flooding, and rising temperatures,” said Sue AnderBois, director of climate and government relations at the Nature Conservancy. 

“We have partnered for several years with the state to implement the Municipal Resilience Program and have seen how much this is already impacting our cities and towns. This legislation to create and implement a plan and increase collaboration specifically to address resilience is a much-needed piece of our climate policy puzzle in Rhode Island.”

This legislation highlights the need for both short-term and long-term strategic thinking, addressing mitigation efforts that are already underway and assessing specific vulnerabilities that are anticipated by 2050, ensuring that acute issues are addressed without losing sight of the forward planning needed to adapt to climate change.

“With ocean temperatures expected to warm for decades to come, storms and flooding will be an even more frequent menace for Rhode Island communities,” said Curt Spalding, principal consultant for Spalding Environment and Climate Strategies and former executive director of Save the Bay. 

“This legislation will, if enacted with sufficient funding support, ensure there is a dynamic strategy for equitable adaptation measures and provide a toolbox that will support building resilient communities. A thriving future for Rhode Island literally depends on passage of this legislation.” 

This legislation comes during a period of regional momentum in climate mitigation planning, highlighted by Massachusetts’s recently released comprehensive climate resiliency plan, ResilientMass, which is slated to develop district-based climate mitigation strategies along Massachusetts’s coasts, starting this year.

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the state, and those impacts will only become more pronounced in the coming years,” said Jed Thorp, Rhode Island director with Clean Water Action. “This legislation will ensure that Rhode Island has a thoughtful and robust process to help the state adapt to those changes and make our communities more resilient.”