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Rhode Island PREPs for Flooding

May 30, 2019 | Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, Prepared Communities

Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Reserve works to protect local communities and infrastructure that are at risk from flooding and erosion through projects like PREP-RI. Photo courtesy of Marc N. Belanger.

With increased heavy rain events and sea levels expected to rise by more than nine feet by 2100, many Rhode Island communities are more than ready to PREP. Providing Resilience Education for Planning in Rhode Island (PREP-RI) is a modular, online training for local officials and anyone else who wants to learn how to improve community resilience to flooding and erosion.

The training was developed by Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Reserve, Rhode Island Sea Grant, and the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center. It addresses the urgent need for increased resilience in the Ocean State.

Although it was designed to be online, members of the PREP-RI team also attend planning board and commission meetings to run the module and answer questions. In communities like Portsmouth, the team has held public workshops to identify vulnerabilities and brainstorm strategies to fix problems and protect existing assets. This work encouraged the Town of Portsmouth to successfully apply to the state’s Municipal Resilience Program for funds to build resilience.

 

Jen West, from the Narragansett Bay Reserve on Prudence Island, captures ideas and concerns about coastal resilience from residents of Portsmouth’s Common Fence Point neighborhood in a recent workshop. Photo courtesy Jim McGaw, East Bay RI.

PREP-RI won an award from the American Planning Association’s Rhode Island chapter and has been commended by Representative Lauren H. Carson of the Rhode Island General Assembly.  “PREP-RI is exactly what we need to launch a statewide comprehensive training program for land use decision-makers,” says Carson.

It’s also exactly what planning boards and commissions need to comply with a new law that requires at least two hours of training related to flooding and sea level rise. It is now the primary training that satisfies that requirement.

“The legislation aims to ensure that those with the front-line duties of determining whether, where, and how we build our communities have information and tools to ensure new development and redevelopment is done with an eye toward protecting assets from rising sea levels,” says Carson.

According to West, planning board members see the training as something that can level the playing field and bring newer members and those without specialized knowledge up to speed. “It’s a good way to get everyone on the same page; even more experienced planning board members have commented on how much they appreciate that,” says West.

Some see PREP-RI as the beginning of their education for a better, more resilient Ocean state. West says, “The training has sparked some planners to do more, for example, to bring in specialists as a follow up.”

The PREP-RI team predicts that similar trainings will be offered for other coastal communities. “There’s been a ripple effect,” says West. “Connecticut wants to do a similar set of modules customized for them, and other New England states are interested, too.”

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