First look at Block Island’s resiliency plan

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 8:15pm

In the spring of 2021, New Shoreham began the process of certification for the state of Rhode Island’s Municipal Resilience Plan. As part of the certification process, according to the report provided to the Planning Board on November 10, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank and The Nature Conservancy provided the town with a “community-driven process to assess current hazard and climate change impacts” on Block Island. Additionally, the RIIB and TNC worked to come up with projects,
plans, and policies for improved resilience. Town Planner Allison Ring explained to the Planning Board on November 10 that participation in the state resiliency plan afforded New Shoreham the ability to qualify for state grants and aid for resiliency projects. Ring did not go through the report generated by the certification process with the Planning Board, but it is available on the town’s website.

The town employed a community-driven process called Community Resilience Building, using the New Shoreham Local Hazard Mitigation plan of 2017 and the Comprehensive Plan of 2016, along with the information, experience, and dialogue of the participants. Participants included representatives from the various town departments such as Land Use, Harbors, Public Works, and members of the community. The New Shoreham Core Team, comprised of Town Manager Maryanne
Crawford, Ring, Land Use Officer Jenn Brady, and The Nature Conservancy’s Charlotte Herring, identified top hazards of the town for the CRB to consider.
According to the Summary of Findings of the CRB Workshop, the top hazards identified by the Core Team are storm surge and flooding, sea level rise, high winds,
and extreme temperatures.
The areas of concern for these hazards identified in the CRB workshop included the public safety complex and fire station, downtown area, town hall, highway garage, beach pavilion, day care facility, lighthouses, Coast Guard station, Bridgegate Square, and the transfer station. The utility systems such as water and sewer, power company, phone towers, and gas station were also mentioned in the report as areas of concern, as well as the roads and bridges.
Specifically, there was concern for the effects of flooding from storms and sea level rise on Corn Neck Road and several “exposed segments” of Ocean Avenue such as the intersection with West Side Road by Dead Eye Dick’s in New Harbor. There was concern that the water system pump stations are located in the 100-year flood zone, and that the power company would be inaccessible if Ocean Avenue floods. Above-ground power lines were also mentioned as being potentially vulnerable to high winds.

According to the report, the CRB workshop participants were in agreement that “New Shoreham is experiencing more intense and frequent storm events and heat waves.” There was general concern about preparedness for the “worst case scenario” particularly in the summer with the high number of visitors. Concern was also
raised about the status of the ferry docks both on the island and at Point Judith being vulnerable to storm surge.

Vulnerable populations identified included the elderly, residents with special needs, disabled residents, ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, low to moderate income residents, business owners, and tourists. The natural ecosystems of the Great Salt Pond, the bluffs and dunes, beaches, freshwater ponds, and grasslands
were also areas of concern.
The “priority actions” identified in the report were to consider raising the docks on-island and in Point Judith, and exploring the potential for using living breakwaters or reefs to protect coastal areas of the island through dissipation of wave energy. The CRB also plans to continue to advance the Corn Neck Road Transportation Resiliency Planning Study of 2017 so that a project is in place for the next round of disaster funds, and secure funding to address priority flood-prone road segments including Spring Street, Bridgegate Square, and the road entrance to Payne's Dock. Also mentioned was the need to assess and correct utilities in low-lying areas, and identify a suitable alternative location for the public safety complex. While the police and fire stations do not themselves flood, the roads leading to the complex do and can potentially leave the police and fire stations cut off.
Other actions suggested in the report were to review drainage on the roads, establish a water monitoring program, and construct an emergency shelter for housing
pre-deployed resources up Corn Neck Road in the event the road becomes impassable. Additionally, the CRB suggested upgrading the school to further enhance its status as an emergency shelter, including items such as fixing the leaking roof, eliminating mold issues, updating the heating system, and securing back-up generator power.
Ring told the Planning Board the town would continue to work on identifying potential projects, so that it would be ready when funding becomes available for resiliency projects. She said the funding requires the projects to be “shovel ready.”