From: Tim Faulkner, ecoRI News
Published January 10, 2014 10:27 AM

State Officials Warn Climate Impact Predictions may be Worsening

The situation looks grim for Rhode Island and the rest of the East Coast when it come to climate change. In fact, the outlook is getting worse, according to state officials.

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Grover Fugate, head of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the face of the state's climate research and planning, recently said climate change is happening faster than scientists can model it.

At a Jan. 8 Statehouse conference, proponents of addressing climate change in Rhode Island divulged some startling new projections. They also crystallized their message, and highlighted the need for funding.

Fugate presented an engrossing depiction of the destruction in store from rising sea levels, eroding shorelines and potent storms. Some of the current findings:

Salt marshes are eroding at an accelerated rate. Rhode Island's sea level is projected to rise 2 feet higher than global estimates — up to 7 feet by 2100. Modeling suggests that sea level could rise between 20 and 50 feet along the East Coast. 

Rates of beach erosion are increasing, prompting the need to relocate some buildings along the coast of South Kingstown and Westerly, Fugate said. Twenty-six foot tall sea walls would be needed to hold back rising waters, he said. Downtown Newport, downtown Providence, Block Island and other tourist centers are threatened by higher tides, flooding and storm surges.

Other state officials joined in, expressing a need for public awareness and planning at all levels of government. Transportation, emergency management and state planning officials in attendance all said work by the CRMC was essential for the planning and development of roads, highways, sewer systems and water supplies. They urged immediate action to plan for the inevitable increase in spending on planning, building and insurance.

However, one voice focused on the here and now. Monica Staaf, lobbyist for the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, said the cost of adaptation is already crippling property owners. "That's the issue, the limited budgets (of property owners)," she said.

New flood insurance premiums have skyrocketed since federal subsidies started going away — some have jumped as high as $58,000, Staaf said.

Fugate and others noted that costs will only increase from billions to trillions of dollars if action isn’t taken. "If we don't act now, decisions are going to be made for us," said Jon Reiner, planning director for North Kingstown.

Continue reading at ecoRI News.

Storm damage image credit: Anton Oparinvia via Shutterstock.

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