Flooding on Corn Neck causing concerns

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 9:45am

There was a sense of urgency in Councilor Martha Ball’s voice when she said attention is needed to address storm flooding issues on Corn Neck Road, and at the Town Beach parking lot. Ball made her comments during the Council’s March 19 meeting when she noted that a series of storms caused severe flooding of the road, more than a foot of water to flood almost the entire north parking lot, and created deep pooling in the south lot.

“This is going to keep happening,” said Ball at a meeting between the Town Council and Sen. Susan Sosnowski and State Rep. Blake Filippi at Town Hall. Ball, who routinely travels Corn Neck Road said she has “never seen that much water in that lot for that long.”

Janet Freedman, a Coastal Geologist at Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council, told The Block Island Times that the flooding could be due to a surge channel that flows “through the lowest area of the beach created by water levels two to three feet higher than normal and very large waves. Unfortunately, this type of flooding will probably be more and more frequent over time. It looks equivalent to about five feet of sea level rise on a sunny day with average tides,” which, she said, could mean “permanent flooding.”

“This section of Corn Neck Road is very vulnerable to sea level rise, both from the beach side and the pond side,” she said. “One thing the town could do is relocate the pavilion into the flooded area of the parking lot and rebuild the dunes where the pavilion is. If there were a continuous ridge of dunes it would help to diminish some of the storm surge flooding — at least for a while. As a very short-term fix the town could try some type of portable barrier at the edge of the parking lot, like sand containers that can be filled rapidly and emptied onto the beach after the storm passes. But would that really be worth the expense of keeping floodwater out of the parking lot in the offseason?”

Freedman said, “On the bright side, most of Block Island is pretty high above the sea. Flooding is limited to the areas around the ponds in the central part of the island. Unfortunately, that is where the island’s services and critical infrastructure is located. The town should use an online tool, beachsamp.org/stormtools, to look at the different sea level rise and storm scenarios in order to come up with a good cost/benefit plan for the long term — different project phases cognizant of costs and design life.”

Teresa Crean, the Coastal Community Planner and Coastal Management Specialist at URI’s Coastal Resources Center, said, “Rhode Islanders are catching a glimpse of future sea levels every time we experience a King Tide in Rhode Island. Add a surge event onto a King Tide, such as what we saw on March 2 and March 3 across Rhode Island, and we can see what twice-daily tides at one to two feet higher than today's levels will do to our coastal properties.” A King Tide is the very highest of tides that occurs twice a year.

Crean, who is also project manager for the CRMC’s Beach SAMP, a management plan created to address shoreline issues, said the CRMC is currently tackling “adaptation strategies” to address flooding issues, like at the Town Beach parking lots. The Beach SAMP’s new chapter is entitled “Adaptation Strategies,” and was discussed at URI’s Bay Campus on March 29. What’s notable about that chapter is that the text is superimposed over images of Block Island.

The New Shoreham Planning Board recently spearheaded a study into the impact of sea level rise on Corn Neck Road and its surrounding environs. Sven Risom, Vice Chair of the board told The Times that, “The water in the beach house parking lot is a serious issue and demonstration of what happens when breaks occur in the island dunes and the water has nowhere to go, leaving a storm surge pond over a foot deep. The town must continuously reinforce the dunes with plantings and minimize cuts through the dunes.”

“Right now there is a straight opening on either side of the beach house which acts as a trench when the storm surge pushes the sea against the dunes,” said Risom, “but in this case it goes straight into the parking lot. My hope is the town will be able to engineer the dunes to create zig zags, or angles, as is being discussed at Scotch Beach, which will reduce the amount of water pushed through the dunes into the parking lot from storm surge.”

Freedman said that flooding and sea level rise is a global issue. “Rhode Island is not the only place that needs to worry about increased frequency of storm surge flooding, or even sunny day flooding. Look at what has happened to our neighbors in Massachusetts in the last three storms. Even Boston’s streets were flooded with seawater. Sea level rise is a global issue and in my opinion we really need to understand that it is real and it is happening now and will get worse in the future. Then we need to use our creative juices and come up with innovative long-term plans.”

“There are challenges in trying to develop coastal resiliency,” said Freedman. “Most people cannot wrap their heads around the potential flooding depths and associated land loss.” 

Crean supplied The Times with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s link for predicted/actual water levels: https://bit.ly/2GhBw2t