Kids check out dramatic erosion along Rhode Island's south shore. Photo/Rhode Island Sea Grant/Kate O'Kula.

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, along with the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant at the Graduate School of Oceanography, is developing a new Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) to address problems facing Rhode Island’s coastal communities. The Beach SAMP will provide a long-term plan for these cities and towns to plan for and be more resilient to natural processes like erosion, sea-level rise and flooding.

“The Rhode Island shoreline is facing significant erosion issues and more needs to be done in analyzing, communicating the issues, and proposing management measures to deal with this growing dilemma,” CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate said in a May 2012 memorandum.

In the memo, Fugate pointed to Matunuck as an example. “The road is already in a compromised state and one good coastal storm could significantly damage it. This road is the sole access to 250 homes and the water supply for 1,600 homes that feeds the fire suppression system for these 1,600 homes. There is clearly a public health and safety purpose to protecting, in the short term, this limited section of road until a more comprehensive look is taken and other alternatives seriously explored.”

Shorelines are constantly changing, and Rhode Island coastal communities are increasingly experiencing the impacts. Storm waves can erode beaches and flood developed areas, while rising sea levels subsume land. Communities are asking how they can protect people and property, as well as vital infrastructure such as drinking water supplies, utilities, and roadways.

The development of the Beach SAMP will help find solutions to these problems, which are threatening communities in many areas along the state’s coast. The SAMP aims to improve the coastal resiliency of cities and towns throughout Rhode Island to the threats of erosion and flooding caused by storm events or sea level rise. Using up-to-date research and expertise from a wide range of public and private sectors, the Beach SAMP will help inform state and local policy and planning initiatives.

Bruce Corliss, dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, says that the school has a long history of contributing science and policy expertise to the state’s coastal management and that the Beach SAMP reflects GSO’s continued commitment to address Rhode Island’s pressing ocean and coastal problems. “Coastal sustainability is one of the most pressing issues that Rhode Island faces in the future, as a result of present and future environmental changes,” he said. “The Beach SAMP will utilize scientific findings to develop a rational coastal management plan that will have far-reaching effects for Rhode Island. I am pleased that the Graduate School of Oceanography will provide critical support to the state in developing an appropriate policy and management plan for the coastal environment.”

The SAMP will be developed in 3 phases over the next 3 years:

  • Phase I: focus on the south shore (Napatree Point to Point Judith and Block Island)
  • Phase II: focus on the east facing shoreline of Narragansett and south facing shorelines of Aquidneck Island and Little Compton
  • Phase III: focus on particularly threatened areas of Narragansett Ba

Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs), which the CRMC is authorized to develop, are comprehensive plans providing for natural resource protection and reasonable coastal-dependent economic growth set forth in policies that are tailor-made to a certain area of the state. SAMPs outline standards and criteria that guide public and private land and water use, and provide mechanisms for effective implementation of these in specific areas within the coastal zone.

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