Locals Report Coastal Infrastructure Challenges Face the Nation

By ecoRI News staff

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, and Tom Carper, D-Del., top Democrat on the environment committee, recently held a Senate roundtable highlighting the current state of U.S. coastal infrastructure.

The Senators were joined May 11 in Washington, D.C., by Grover Fugate, executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council; Jeffrey Diehl, executive director of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank; and Tony Pratt, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association and administrator of the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section within the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“America’s infrastructure needs upgrades across the board. That’s especially true along our coasts, where climate change poses serious threats to coastal communities,” Whitehouse said. “As we heard today from our Coastal Resources Management Council’s director, Grover Fugate, Rhode Island is preparing for up to 12 feet of sea-level rise. For the sake of our economy and way of life, we need to support the work highlighted today by Jeff Diehl, of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, and invest in coastal infrastructure that meets today’s standards and can withstand the major changes experts like Grover predict.”

Fugate told roundtable participants that the country’s shoreline is in danger.

“Our coast in Rhode Island and many other areas of this nation is under threat. It’s under threat from severe storms that we see, like hurricanes and nor’easters, but also, as we see in our state, a doubling of the sea level-rise rate,” he said. “In the last 90 years, we’ve had about 10 inches of sea-level rise. We could potentially see 10 feet. The magnitude of change in that is staggering. Our bridges, our roads, our sewage treatment plants, our water supplies, and our utilities are all at threat, and we need to upgrade the standards to which they’re built and invest more in these areas.”

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state of U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in its annual Infrastructure Report Card. The nation’s troubled infrastructure, including roads and highways and drinking and wastewater systems, is in particular peril along the coasts from rising seas, storm surge and consequences of extreme weather events, according to the report.

“In Delaware, we have already rebuilt dunes and replenished beaches in an attempt to push the rising seas back from our coastal communities,” Carper said. “Without smart, forward-looking investments in our country’s infrastructure — both built infrastructure like seawalls and levees, and natural infrastructure such as marshes and wetlands — we will continue to see flooded streets, retreating coastlines and communities that need to be rebuilt after every storm. Coastal states especially understand that resiliency projects are critical, but we also know that they only address the symptoms of a much larger issue: global climate change. Ultimately, we need to work together to tackle the root causes of climate change if we want to protect vulnerable coastal communities.”

In February, the Environment and Public Works Committee held its first legislate hearing of the 115th Congress to discuss the urgent need to modernize the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. During that hearing, both Whitehouse and Carper discussed the bipartisan consensus to make smart investments in infrastructure and the growing threat climate change posed to infrastructure in their coastal states.