From: FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
Published January 19, 2014 10:10 AM

Coastal erosion concerns in Southern New England

Southern New England’s coastline — the region’s economic engine — is under siege, and this relentless enemy is gaining force. It can't be subdued by 20-foot-high seawalls or controlled by old-school hay bales. It's allies include parking lots, beachfront development and climate change.

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Coastal communities here are increasingly experiencing the impacts of an encroaching ocean. Storm waves are eroding beaches and flooding developed areas. Rising sea levels are taking land. The ocean's power even when it’s seemingly tranquil is unmatched, but when it's angry our continued disrespect proves costly.

State and local officials are now asking how they can protect people, property and vital infrastructure such as drinking water supplies, utilities and roads from the advancing sea. There are no simple solutions, but there’s also no reason to panic. The sky isn't falling, but the ocean is creeping in; our coastline is changing, and smart decisions must be made.

During the past few decades, sections of the Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut shoreline have experienced an average rate of retreat of between 1 and 4 feet, depending on storm frequencies and intensity. A single storm, for example, can wash away some 30 feet of beach in an instant.

"Shoreline changes are the most pressing issue facing Rhode Island," said Laura Dwyer, the public educator and information coordinator for the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). "We're planning for the worst and hoping for the best. Our coastline is changing very quickly."

Beach erosion image via Shutterstock.

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