State of Rhode Island

Grant Type:
2011 Regional Planning (category 1)

Grant Amount:
$1,934,961

Lead organization:
State of Rhode Island

ABOUT THE REGION

Rhode Island’s population (one million) has experienced four presidentially declared disasters from 2010 to 2013, dramatically increasing awareness of local vulnerabilities to climate change and natural hazards. Rhode Island has over 400 miles of coastline, and has enjoyed a resurgence of historic, riverine mill villages. Nature-based tourism, the marine industry and commercial reuse of historic mills are key components of the state’s economy that are susceptible to sea level rise and riverine flooding.

PROJECT SUMMARY AND GOALS

The state is exploring a range of resilience solutions in response to sea level rise, flooding and other hazards. The Rhode Island Division of Planning and its partners have been utilizing the HUD regional planning grant to develop a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD) for the State of Rhode Island, popularly known as RhodeMap.

The grant is supporting key activities to advance sustainability and equity in the region, including:

  • Developing up-to-date and coordinated housing and economic development elements for Rhode Island’s State Guide
  • Compiling the goals, strategies and actions contained in the Land Use, Transportation, Water Supply, Economic Development and Housing State Guide Plan elements into an integrated regional plan for sus- tainable development and an implementation program outlining specific steps that could be taken to move the region from planning to
  • Developing a toolkit to help local communities identify and delineate specific geographic areas that are: most suitable for infill and development including those areas with adequate drinking water supplies; appropriate for infrastructure investment; minimally vulnerable to natural hazards, etc.
  • Building capacity within state and local government and among participants in the planning process by increasing skills and technical expertise in sustainable development.
  • Utilizing a public participation strategy to reach target populations, engage them in the planning process and ensure sustained participation throughout implementation of the RPSD.
  • Establishing a Social Equity Advisory Committee (SEAC) to represent underserved populations in the state and ensure social equity is infused in all

Rhode Island has three existing plans, Land Use 2025, Transportation 2030 and RI Water 2030 that will make up the overarching framework of the RPSD. These will be augmented by additional planning and analysis to fill current gaps in housing, economic development and social equity. The RPSD will also include a detailed implementation program with specific strategies that can be undertaken to create a more sustainable future for the   state.

THE CHALLENGES AHEAD

Priority issues for Rhode Island include:

  • Impacts from sea level rise and riverine flooding, including issues with transportation, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure and natural systems like coastal marshes.
  • Lack of comprehensive vulnerability assessments for major sectors of the state’s economy and
  • Increasing the capacity of state leaders to communicate with members of the public about climate change in a meaningful
  • Leading by example in areas like energy efficiency and protecting the state’s most vulnerable populations from the impacts of climate
  • Providing consistent and timely guidance to municipalities on key issues related to climate change/sea level
  • Engaging the business community in identifying vulnerabilities and
  • Identifying future funding sources to increase the state’s resiliency.

PROMISING PRACTICES OR INNOVATIONS

Rhode Island has undertaken some key actions to address these priorities, including:

  • The launch of an online web-based access tool called Stormtools for planners and decision makers in coastal communities (it maps storm inundation with and without sea level rise).
  • Adoption of Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) maps for the coastal wetlands of all 21 Rhode Island coastal communities (purpose of these SLAMM maps is to show how coastal wetlands will likely migrate onto adjacent upland areas under projected sea level rise scenarios of one, three, and five feet in coming decades).
  • Completion of vulnerability assessments in the areas of transportation, drinking water and ongoing assess- ments for waste water treatment
  • Creation of an interagency climate communications working group.
  • Completion of the state’s first ‘Climate Change and Health Resiliency” report.
  • Passage of the Resiliency RI Act (July 2014) which codifies the creation of the RI Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) and puts in place mandated GHG emission

The Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) was created by executive order (Feb. 2014) and endorsed by the General Assembly in the Resilient Rhode Island Act (July 2014). This highly-engaged council is an active forum for state agency leaders to discuss priority climate change challenges facing the state. The council is not intended to debate the science of climate change or sea level rise rather, the EC4 is helping coordinate and strengthen the way state government can act in a timely and efficient manner in the face of climate change that is already happening.

Another major step forward in achieving sustainable development patterns is developing a toolkit for municipalities, quasi-state agencies, water suppliers and others to locally identify areas best suited for infrastructure investment and more concentrated development. The identification of these specific areas as village or growth centers can help guide the State’s limited resources towards investments that will have the greatest impact. A key component of the work program is to ensure that capacity is built within state and municipal governments and among participants in the planning process by increasing skills and technical expertise and emphasizing the sharing of resources and knowledge for maximum efficiency. This is partially being done through a series of mini-grants to various state and local partners. The experience gained through these efforts will fuel protocols, tools and platforms that will,   in turn, facilitate future planning efforts, as Rhode Island nears the end of its grant process.