Summer’s over – time to look to the future

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 1:30pm
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Land Trust member Corrie Heinz attended a Community Resilience Building Workshop held Sept. 16, as did clerk Heidi Tarbox, The Nature Conservancy Associate State Director Scott Comings, and Block Island Conservancy President Dorrie Napoleone. They and other members of the Block Island Land Trust had a wide-ranging discussion about it at their meeting on Sept. 20.
Conducted by the R.I. Infrastructure Bank and sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the workshops with municipalities began in 2019, and Block Island is among the last of the groups to participate.

Heinz said there was a 40-minute introduction where members of the Infrastructure Bank talked about the goals of the program, and then participants broke into groups to discuss their top concerns. Most groups came up with the same priorities: moving buildings that are in areas that could become their own islands, the inundation of Corn Neck Road making the island two islands, and loss of communications with the mainland.

But there are many other aspects to consider – what can be done now to mitigate damage later, such as raising coastal structures and homes off the ground, and giving relief on building heights in order to do so; identifying areas where marshes can be relocated, or nudged to prevent drowning; installing “rain gardens” (a glorified name for a drainage ditch) and swales to absorb storm run-off and flood waters.

There have been other similar workshops conducted on the island in recent years, mainly by the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, which developed the sea-level rise scenario maps and the app “Storm Tools,” that encourages citizens to photograph various areas at high tide during king tides to simulate what the “new normal” will look like in future years as sea levels rise.
A planning study was also conducted for Corn Neck Road after the southern end was rebuilt after being destroyed by Super-storm San-
dy. The idea was that if there was a bona fide engineering plan in place, the road could be built to new specifications instead of simply being replaced exactly as it was before the emergency.
There was also a group formed on the island called the Shoreline Access Working Group to do a one-year study of most all the island’s beach access points to evaluate erosion, safety, access, and any other relevant matters. The group produced a lengthy report, and its findings have spurred a couple of projects around the island, like a new boardwalk for Andy’s Way. Heinz told The Times before the meeting started that she planned to look at it and re-visit all the sites.
Comings said that this time around there was money available from the Infrastructure Bank to actually do something as the “town works out priorities.” He said: “There are lots of different pots,” that can be tapped, depending on the nature of the resiliency improvement pursued.
“What are the next steps?” asked Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan.
Tarbox said a report would be issued in two to three weeks.

“Our role should be to continue to educate ourselves,” said Heinz, adding that information is available but they would need to figure out “what our goal should be. It’s going to be hard to make these decisions.”
Comings said there were maps available showing different sea-level rise scenarios up to seven feet – the amount predicted by the end of the century, and that the conservation groups should assess which of their properties could be affected.
Trustee Wendy Crawford said that when there is a big storm, she watches the waves wash over Spring Street and asked “Whose
jurisdiction is that?” (Spring Street also sustained major damage during Sandy.)

“It involves many agencies,” said Comings, including the CRMC and Army Corps of Engineers.
MacMullan asked whose responsibility it would be to “carry this forward.”
“It’s going to be everybody,” said Heinz.
“But someone needs to shepherd that process,” said MacMullan.

“There’s a core town team,” said Tarbox, which she said consisted of (at least) Town Planner Alison Ring, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford and Land Use Administrator, Jenn Brady.

MacMullan said: “I worry that we’ve done so many studies over the years that just lay on the shelf.”
“When events happen, they come out,” said Trustee Keith Lang.

There is, in fact, a Sea Level Rise Committee currently being formed in an attempt to be proactive, rather than reactive. Anyone who is interested in serving on the committee should send a letter of interest to the Town Council, in care of Town Manager Maryanne Crawford, by Sept. 30. The Council plans to make its appointments to the committee in October.