Corn Neck Road planning session

For sea level rise and flood prevention
Sat, 04/15/2017 - 10:45am

The following was sent in by Carissa Lord, a Hazard Mitigation specialist for VHB, a firm engaged by the town to assist in looking at ways to mitigate areas on Block Island subject to damage and flooding during storms.

Anyone who has been on-island during a major coastal storm or a particularly high tide event knows that sections of Corn Neck Road cannot escape destructive wave action, migrating dunes, or overland flooding. Conditions are only expected to get worse. Because of that, the town has kicked off a new planning study that will focus on long-term alternatives for a vulnerable stretch of Corn Neck Road between Scotch Beach and Bridgegate Square, in order to mitigate the impacts from storm surge and sea level rise. This planning study was identified as a need in the town’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan and in the Hazard Mitigation Plan. Analyses included in the Comprehensive Plan indicate that portions of Corn Neck Road are projected to be inundated as a result of three to five feet of sea level rise.

The timing of when that much change may occur could be sooner than later. A 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report estimates a worst-case scenario for New England might be more than nine feet of relative sea level rise by 2100. Even now, in bad storms, Bridgegate Square becomes flooded as the storm runoff overwhelms the drainage system, and the Scotch Beach access point funnels the storm surge from the beach across Corn Neck Road.

As sea level rises, the geography of the areas connecting the harbors will also be dramatically impacted, requiring that alternatives to the present roadway configuration be developed.

In an effort to be proactive, the Planning Board, with the assistance of partners and residents, would like to identify a creative long-term solution for Corn Neck Road that will better serve the community, mitigate storm impacts and avoid costly future road repairs. 

On Wednesday, April 19, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., there will be a public event at Town Hall to discuss opportunities to reduce erosion, storm surge inundation, and sea-level rise effects along Corn Neck Road. The public is invited to share thoughts, ideas, and concerns with the team from VHB, the firm hired by the town to assist with this planning effort. An overview of the Corn Neck Road issues will be followed by a public discussion. (On October 27, 2016, the town was awarded Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds to explore alternatives for Corn Neck Road and the preservation of a long-term connection to the northern end of the island if Corn Neck Road were to remain inundated as a result of sea level rise.)

Low-lying portions of Corn Neck Road are a constant concern when storms hit Block Island. In 2010, storm-driven sands were deposited on Corn Neck Road at Scotch Beach, creating treacherous conditions for vehicular traffic. During Hurricane Sandy, in late October 2012, the eastern side of the island was pummeled by hurricane-force wind and waves. Corn Neck Road was damaged in three areas: Bridgegate Square; an 1,800 foot section of Corn Neck Road north of Bridgegate Square; and Scotch Beach. The road was rebuilt to pre-existing standards without any local input.

Emergency repairs and post-storm recovery projects such as rip-rap and dune replanting have only met the minimum requirements to stabilize Corn Neck Road. The southern portion of Corn Neck Road still remains extremely vulnerable and will likely suffer significant damage as a result of the next major storm. 

Sea level rise can seem like a slow process, but one strong coastal storm can change the landscape significantly in a matter of hours. With public input we can find the best solution for the future of Block Island. 

The town has hired the firm VHB who has put together a cross disciplinary team to assist with this critical planning effort. During the initial phase of this project, VHB will be collecting information from residents and other stakeholders to capture their concerns and thoughts about the future of Corn Neck Road. From this first list of suggestions, VHB will identify and evaluate a range of alternatives, and develop preliminary design sketches for the four most practicable alternatives. 

A draft report of project findings will be presented at a future Planning Board meeting before being finalized. The current timeline is to have the Planning Board accept the final study at the August 2017 meeting. 

Public engagement throughout this planning process is not only encouraged but is vital in order to produce the best possible solution. 

For additional project information, periodically check the Town’s website  Those who can’t make it on Wednesday can share their perspectives with the planning team anonymously (or not so anonymously). Please email Carissa Lord at or take part in a short survey