On Wednesday, June 14th, the Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (RIEC4), held it’s regular monthly meeting at the Newport City Hall Council Chambers – the first in their series of ‘roving’ public meetings. Janet Coit, Director of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and Council Chair, said the EC4 plans to hold future meetings at various locations around the state, and acknowledged a great turnout at the first one here in Newport. In addition to the regular EC4 meeting agenda were presentations on the topic of “Building Resilience on Aquidneck Island” by representatives from the City of Newport, Town of Middletown, Town of Portsmouth, URI’s Coastal Resources Center and the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC).
A timely event, just days after an announcement earlier in the week that R.I. Governor Gina Raimondo signed an Executive Order reaffirming Rhode Island’s commitment to the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement. That Rhode Island is committed as a state is welcome news during a time of uncertainty at the national level around issues of the environment. Rhode Island joins Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Vermont and Virginia as a member of the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition committed to taking aggressive action on climate change in the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord.
At the meeting, invited speaker Lauren H. Carson, State Representative for District 75, D – Newport, spoke highly of the positive work being done in R.I. around climate change and resiliency, but quickly noted that there is more work to be done, by all of us, including individual property owners. Mentioning that Newport has been developed for a very long time, we need to work especially hard to tackle these problems and protect the natural resources that we love.
A recurring theme throughout the presentations and discussions that followed, was the importance of integrated planning across municipalities, state agencies, chambers of commerce and local non-profit organizations to address the problems we will face around the issue of climate change, including sea level rise and changing weather patterns that bring heavier rains. Regional planning, particularly on Aquidneck Island, is not only more economically efficient, but imperative to finding lasting solutions to these challenging environmental issues, such as stormwater management.
“Water does not stop at municipal boundaries”, said Thomas Ardito, Executive Director of the AIPC, when discussing the non-profit organization’s new EPA funded project “Island Waters”. Island Waters, which brings together all three Aquidneck Island municipalities, local non-profits the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT), Clean Ocean Access (COA), and Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District (ERICD), the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and RIDEM, pulls together existing stormwater plans across the island and fills in the gaps. Bringing these stakeholders together pushes this critical work forward by approaching planning from an island-wide perspective, and not just town by town. The Island Waters team is currently identifying and narrowing down structural sites across the island that will be slated for construction this fall.
Mr. Ardito was joined by Pam Rubinoff, Associate Coastal Manager, Coastal Resilience at the Coastal Resources Center & R.I. Sea Grant of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. Mrs. Rubinoff talked about the CRC’s “Aquidneck Island Resilience Strategy“, which works with an array of government, private sector and community partners to help Aquidneck Island and its communities apply the best available science and public input to the development of a five-year plan to proactively prepare for coastal flooding and storm damage, key aspects of climate change.
Involved with these projects, Gary Crosby, Town Planner for the Town of Portsmouth, talked about the need for not just municipal funding, but a diverse funding portfolio.
Thomas O’Loughlin, Director of Public Works for the Town of Middletown highlighted a number of the successful projects completed and underway in Middletown, noting that stormwater financing and also public engagement are key to continuing this type of work and protecting our local assets.
Reiterating the importance of education was Paul Carroll, Director of Civic Investment for the City of Newport, joined by colleague Sarah Atkins. Acknowledging that these issues are often very technical and challenging to accept because of the nature of long-term solutions, he noted that it is critical, when communicating about this important work that you know your audience and be careful not to deter anyone from getting on board – a point later reinforced by Elizabeth Stone of RIDEM.
Ben Furriel, a resident of Portsmouth, asked the council to consider pushing the state to incentivize regional planning at the municipal level. A point also noted by Middletown resident and AIPC Board Chairman Dick Adams, who would like to see the municipalities supported in their efforts to participate in island-wide coordination.
With encouragement from multiple members of the community and the numerous stakeholders in the room, the council appeared to be receptive to this feedback – to find shared solutions to the problems that pose both environmental and economic risks to all of our communities on Aquidneck Island, and around the state.
The Aquidneck Island Planning Commission is committed to doing our part, through our work on Island Waters, and through future partnerships island- and state-wide.
Also shown during this meeting was the premier of the R.I. Department of Health’s new short documentary “Rhode Island’s Changing Climate: Building Resilience Through Local Solutions” which is available online at http://health.ri.gov/healthrisks/climatechange/