2017-04-06 / News

Bill would finance coastal infrastructure

For a state that depends on Narragansett Bay to boom its tourism, real estate and seafood industries, the coast is vital to the economy of Rhode Island.

Destructive storms and rising seal levels, however, are threatening to erode those shorelines. Because of the changing climate, state Rep. Deb Ruggiero has introduced a Coastal Adaptation Fund that has been referred to the House Finance Committee. Through nickel surcharges on every barrel of petroleum, the bill would establish a trust fund for communities to improve public infrastructure along their coastlines.

Ruggiero, a Democrat who represents Jamestown and Middletown, is working with Save The Bay on the bill.

“Our coastline is critical to our identity, our economy and our culture,” she said. “It’s where people want to be.”

Ruggiero’s bill would finance grants for communities to remove, relocate and redesign infrastructure along the coast. Money also would be available to re-vegetate coastal buffers and strengthen banks that protect the land from the sea.

“We must be proactive and step up our efforts to protect those resources from flooding and damage before we lose them,” she said.

According to Ruggiero, investing in flood prevention also would stabilize businesses that operate on the bay. The law, she said, acts as reassurance that taxes won’t suddenly skyrocket because communities didn’t prepare for the “foreseeable destruction.”

It also would create jobs for landscapers, engineers and builders, she said.

Along with construction grants, the legislation would allocate $250,000 annually to an existing fund to restore estuarine habitats, which will preserve the salt marshes vital to fishermen. These wetlands are nurseries for fish and nesting areas for birds, Ruggiero said, and they act as a natural sponge during flooding. According to Save The Bay, southern New England is losing a greater percentage of marshes than the Mississippi Delta.

The 5-cent levy on petroleum products translates to one cent for every 10 gallons at the gasoline pump, funneling nearly $2 million annually into the adaptation fund. The money is critical, she said, because of the Trump administration’s plan to cut funding for environmental protection.

With more than 400 miles of coastline, there are 20 Rhode Island municipalities that lie below the floodplain, including Jamestown. According to a 2016 report from a House commission tasked with studying the economic risks of rising seas, data showed 15,380 flood policies were written in the Ocean State by September 2015, insuring property worth more than $3.8 billion.

If passed, an advisory committee of coastal experts, state planners, environmental leaders and emergency management officials will determine which applications are approved.

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