Resilience Shapes Investments

Fall 2019

By Jen A. Miller  

“Better-prepared municipalities equal a better-prepared Ocean State,” says Shaun O’Rourke, the state’s chief resilience officer and director of stormwater and resiliency at the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.

He’s working with municipalities on upgrading their wastewater treatment facilities, like in Warren, which suffered historic flooding in 2010.

The impetus for a better facility came not from the flood, but from the need to reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the Warren River, says Kate Michaud, Warren’s town manager. In evaluating the town’s options, she says they also knew they needed to address flood resilience.

Instead of using Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps, which are based on historic and current data, to determine how high the facility should be, they used maps generated by STORMTOOLS, a Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan online mapping tool that draws data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study, and that takes expected sea level rise into account.

“FEMA only looks backwards, and STORMTOOLS looks forward. We want to be in the future instead of the past,” Michaud says.

From those maps, they decided that in order for the facility to be prepared through 2065 (which is the length of the life of the equipment being installed), they chose to plan for 3 feet of sea level rise.

“Now any new construction in Warren—anything that’s going to require town investment—we are consulting those STORMTOOLS maps and looking at the life of the asset and whether or not it would be protected in the future,” she said.

That also includes the town-owned former American Tourister mill building that is being redeveloped into a mix of commercial and residential space. The first floor of the building has no residential units—just parking and commercial space.

Michaud says that partnerships are key, especially for local municipalities. They’ve partnered with the University of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency on projects. They’re also currently working with Rhode Island Housing and “looking at some of the vulnerabilities in affordable housing located within these areas,” she says.

“We’re a small town with a very limited budget. There’s no way we would be addressing these things without those partnerships.”

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