Citizen science, anyone?

Thu, 08/26/2021 - 4:00pm

The Town Council has established a Sea Level Rise Committee with a mission to “understand the potential local impacts posed by sea level rise, assess the community’s vulnerabilities, engage citizens and assist the town to assess, recommend and implement mitigation projects or other priority actions that will improve Block Island’s coastal resiliency.”
Second Warden Sven Risom met with The Times to discuss what this committee is all about. Risom was a part of the Sea Level Rise Staff Task Force, the town staff group that developed the recommendation to the Town Council to form this new town committee.
Except for Risom, the task force was made up entirely of town staff, including representatives from the Harbors Department, Highways Department, Land Use, and the facilities manager. Risom said it was important for the newly forming committee to have community members from the private sector involved as well.
“We have local people that are valuable, people that are science based,” Risom said, mentioning that he hoped having some of these citizen experts on the committee would result in it being “proactive rather than reactive.”

Discussing the need to identify the areas potentially vulnerable to sea level rise, come up with policies and actions to address them, and figure out a way to pay for it, Risom said: “We need science folks, funding folks, and policy folks on this committee.” Risom said he envisioned having town staff involved too, with advisory roles for Water, Sewer, Roads, and Harbors, as well as any other relevant departments.

“We have to be part of a holistic system,” Risom said, mentioning that our biggest vulnerability might actually be the effect of sea level rise in Point Judith and the effect that might have on the ferry service.
The town and various committees have looked at sea level rise from time to time, with some actions taken. Risom cited as examples a study done on Corn Neck Road a few years ago, and the Committee for the Great Salt Pond funding the walkovers on the beach in order to strengthen the dunes and create a more robust barrier.
But Risom pointed out that committees and even town councils can be inconsistent on sea level rise, as members change and priorities shift. Risom says the hope is that this committee ensures a consistent focus on the potential impacts of sea level rise.
When it comes to the rising sea levels, Risom said: “We should be as prepared as possible.” Although he says there is state level support in this area, with U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, and U.S. Representative Jim Langevin keenly aware and interested in sea level rise in Rhode Island, Risom is quick to point out that it is still up to Block Island to take care of itself. “Nobody is going to plan for us; so we have to plan for ourselves.”
To volunteer for the Sea Level Rise Committee, please email a letter to the New Shoreham Town Council via Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick at The letter should state why you wish to serve and any experience or qualifications you may have. Letters of interest will be considered through the end of September and members will be appointed in October.