North Kingstown is uniquely situated, literally, when it comes to rising sea levels. With the village of Wickford right at the water's edge, it will feel the brunt of rising waters before just about every other town center in Rhode Island. That's one of the reasons the URI Coastal Resources Center/Rhode Island Sea Grant program approached in 2010 North Kingstown to be part of a pilot program on climate-change adaptation.
Last Thursday, residents were invited to hear from a variety of speakers connected to that collaboration, and the main messages were clear: If you live by the water, know your risk, and talk to your elected officials with any concerns.
"Please please please, if you have flood insurance, don't let it lapse," urged Michelle Burnett, flood plan coordinator for the state Emergency Management Agency. Or buy it now if you don't have it, she said. "Know your risk."
That's especially important now, since the federal government has revised flood insurance rate maps (FIRMS). Property owners with federally backed mortgages are required to buy flood insurance if they are in hazardous zones identified on federal maps. If you have flood insurance before the new maps are passed into law by the North Kingstown Town Council, you will not immediately be required to pay a higher rate even if you fall into a higher rate category.
Burnett also talked about the benefits of raising your house as a way save money on flood insurance while protecting your home. That's a method that may not have been looked at favorably just a few years ago but is now gaining favor.
Town Planner Jon Reiner had slides that showed the effects of high water on Wickford in several scenarios. In Superstorm Sandy last year, water submerged part of Brown Street, but during the Hurricane of 1938, water covered nearly the entire village. There have been several storms with severity in between those two. But while storms are tough to predict, the baseline level of the sea has been increasing. In 20 years, the sea at mean high tide could be one foot higher than it is now.
Reiner encouraged the audience to talk to town officials about any concerns they had – from sewers to the purchase of open space. One person questioned the wisdom of building the new Senior Center so close to the water.
"The Town Council at that time decided to rebuild there. Even four or five years ago, this wasn't such a big deal," said Reiner. "That's why you need to get involved. You need to talk to your Town Council."
"I live on the water. My concern is rising sea levels and the impact it's going to have," said Bob Binck, who's lived in Wickford for 20 years. "I'm glad to see it's become a topic."
"It's just very interesting because all of Wickford will be under water" if sea level projections play out," said Wickford resident Jan McAleer. "They'll have to figure out something."
"I think we're just learning," offered resident Bill Hahn.