PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island has received $280,000 in federal funding to help protect the coastline from rising seas and storm surges as part of $29 million in grants announced Friday through the newly created National Coastal Resilience Fund.
Officials from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the 35 grants to projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico at an event at Save The Bay’s headquarters in Providence. They were joined by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who introduced the legislation that created the fund, and Congressman David Cicilline.
Money from the fund, which includes donations from Shell Oil and the reinsurance company TransRe, is being matched by the grant awardees, bringing the total value of the program to more than $67 million. The grant winners were selected from 174 applicants.
The Rhode Island grant was awarded to the state Coastal Resources Management Council, which has coordinated efforts to map the coastline and develop computer models to project future impacts of higher seas and more extreme storms caused by climate change. The money, which is being matched with $347,000, will be used to identify 10 vulnerable sites along Rhode Island’s 400 miles of coastline, plan projects to enhance protections, and design and permit them so they’re ready for construction.
The CRMC is working on the projects with Save The Bay, the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant and Roger Williams University’s Marine Affairs Institute.
“With this project, we hope to help our cities look toward the future to develop on-the-ground solutions to the challenges posed by rising sea levels and coastal storms,” said Caitlin Chaffee, policy analyst at the CRMC. “We hope to take the abstract concepts of adaptation and resilience and put them into practice.”
The largest regional project being funded through the grant program is in Massachusetts, a $2.5-million restoration of the Great Marsh, the longest, continuous stretch of salt marsh in New England, stretching from Cape Ann to New Hampshire. The project was awarded a $1.2-million grant.
Although legislation for the national resilience program was first approved in the Senate in 2012, it didn’t get House support until 2015. Even then, it took until this year to allocate funding. This is the inaugural round of grants through the fund, which Whitehouse described as a “foothold” in focusing attention on the threats faced by the coastline.
“The coastal communities have particular hazards they face from climate change and sea-level rise,” Whitehouse said. “It affects their infrastructure. It affects their planning.”
Last year, the United States spent $306 billion to respond to major weather events, a record for the nation. A study by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent on pre-disaster resilience saves $6 in post-disaster recovery.
“These impacts of climate change continue to get worse and continue to become more expensive,” said Cicilline. “They will require even more resources if we don’t respond in a serious way to try to prepare for the changes on our coast.”
Among the list of winning applicants are an $11.9-million project to restore degraded wetlands in Delaware, a $2.5-million project to protect nesting habitat for seabirds in South Carolina and a $3-million project to restore a coral reef in Florida.
With the State of Rhode Island suing Shell and other fossil-fuel companies over climate-change impacts, Tim Faulkner, of ecoRI News, asked Whitehouse if the fund’s acceptance of money from the Dutch multinational amounted to “greenwashing” — a public-relations stunt designed to give the impression of being environmentally responsible.
“I think that what we have to do is celebrate and applaud the good efforts by partners who come together to help, particularly with local problems like this one, while continuing to acknowledge the fact that the oil industry as an industry continues to be deliberately unhelpful with respect to solving the climate problem,” he said. “These are big organizations and sometimes they do good things … and they sometimes do very bad things.”
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