Before polices could be developed that incorporate sea level rise and other climate change considerations into siting and building standards criteria, the coastal council and Sea Grant had to first focus on the science. Scientists from the University of Rhode Island “looked into the science of what sea level rise is and what the existing science says,” explains Rubinoff. In addition, the coastal council and Sea Grant “looked at existing development issues, identified key priorities, and looked at the impacts on buildings, the shoreline, and habitat.”
The group shared this information with the public in a series of meetings. Visualizations created by Sea Grant showing popular coastal locations with three feet of sea level rise “really got people’s attention and helped people understand the issues,” says Fugate.
This series of visualizations shows simulated views of Rhode Island’s State Pier in Pawtucket at high tide, at high tide plus three feet of sea level rise, and at spring tide plus three feet of sea level rise. Images courtesy of Rhode Island Sea Grant.
To see if any other states had created sea level rise policies that they might be able to model, Sea Grant also looked at what other states were doing. Working with the NOAA Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Sea Grant created a summary of sea level rise initiatives of coastal programs across the nation. “We found out that several states aren’t doing anything,” Rubinoff says. “Others are coming at it very differently, through outreach, research, established commissions, or general policy. There’s not a lot of consistency.”
The collected science and policy information was presented during a workshop with the coastal council, state building commission, and senate policy office. The group’s consensus was that the rate of sea level rise that the state should be planning for is 3 to 5 feet, but that the coastal council should review these figures frequently and adjust them as necessary.
This is the rate that will guide the coastal program and the Rhode Island State Building Commission as they work to adopt coastal construction standards. New standards may eventually incorporate considerations of increased freeboard into the state building code.
With all of this collected information in hand, the coastal program adopted a sea level rise and climate change policy in January 2008 that sets the stage for adopting future regulations, Fugate says. The policy includes the current science and facts about climate change and sea level rise impacts in the state, and establishes criteria for the coastal program to develop future policies, plans, and regulations to proactively address and adapt to climate change and sea level rise.