The Block Island Times

Protecting Block Island from shoreline change

CRMC unveils Beach Special Area Management Plan
By Stephanie Turaj | Mar 23, 2013

The seas are rising, the coast is eroding and because of this Block Island may look different in the future, according to state and local officials.

In response to this, the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is developing a statewide management plan that aims to protect Rhode Island’s coastline. The Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) will provide guidance to communities to help them manage change that comes about from the erosion caused by flooding and storms.

Beach SAMP project managers hosted an informational meeting on Block Island Monday, March 18. Members of the Block Island Town Council, local conservation groups and the community attended.

“People in their lifetime… may see two feet of sea level rise,” said CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate. “That could transform the shoreline during that period of time, especially coupled with more storm events… that are becoming more frequent.”

Block Island and its mainland South Shore neighbors — Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown and Narragansett — are the first areas of focus of the management plan, which also has three components.

First, the CRMC, with the help of the University of Rhode Island (URI), will collect data and conduct research on geological studies, prepare an engineering evaluation of different tools needed to handle shoreline change, and provide an analysis of what other areas in the country are doing to combat the shoreline challenges, according to Michelle Carnevale, Coastal Manager at URI’s Coastal Resources Center. This research would also look at potential impact to roads and infrastructure, she said.

Second, the CRMC will then develop a policy, detailing how to manage potential outcomes from factors such as storms.

The third component will be an ongoing education campaign to inform the public about the impact of shoreline change.

“We need to focus more effort geologically here on Block Island to figure out what’s going on,” said Fugate. “It’s a much more complex environment than what we’re used to on the South Shore.”

For example, Fugate said that impact on Block Island bluffs from sea level rise is unique.

“Block Island has, in many past efforts of the [CRMC], been sort of either left out or an afterthought,” said Fugate.

Fugate said that much of the research would be new — such as updating erosion maps and showing the change that happened on Block Island and other areas after October’s Hurricane Sandy and that responding to shoreline change should be a deliberate process. “Unfortunately a lot of the reaction we often see is the day after the storm everybody is trying to put it back together,” said Fugate. “That may not be the best response to take.”

Carnevale, from URI, said that the education component of the plan is expected to be “extensive” — and may involve library lecture series, fact sheets, videos and social media. She also described the project as the “sister” to the CRMC’s 2010 Ocean Special Area Management Plan, which lays out enforceable policies to guide the CRMC in promoting a balanced ocean ecosystem.

The Beach SAMP will be a regulatory document, and will outline CRMC policies and standards, as well as have recommendations to local government and state agencies.

“The goal of the project is really to develop, through a public process, a comprehensive plan that’s statewide, and look at the issues of coastal erosion and inundation from sea level rise and storm surge,” said Carnevale.

Block Island weighs in

Several audience members also had questions about dune restoration — especially since the Block Island Residents Association and Conservation Commission are working on a dune restoration program by installing snow fencing beginning March 30.

Beach SAMP Project Advisor Janet Freedman said that dune restoration can be very site specific — for example, fencing should be installed properly to avoid harming Piping Plover birds’ access to the beach. “You have to look at other environmental impacts,” of snow fencing, she said.

Bill Penn, Block Island Residents Association president, suggested creating an education outreach program for visitors that would educate them on how to protect Block Island’s beaches.

Town Councilor Chris Warfel suggested that the Beach SAMP should address how shoreline change affects Block Island’s inner ponds, which he said have been filling with sand over time.

“I think we’ve got to plan on more frequent, more severe storms, and the areas that we’ve gotten used to as being beach or livable are no longer going to be,” said Town Councilor Norris Pike.

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