Testimony of Grover Fugate
On Behalf of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council
Before the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee
June 23, 1998

Introduction

Good morning. My name is Grover Fugate, I am the Executive Director of the State of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (RICRMC). I would like to thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to present RICRMC's concerns and interests in the Water Resources Development Act of 1998 (WRDA). This testimony will focus upon Rhode Island's need for replenishment projects and the national benefits derived from them.

Background

The south coast of Rhode Island is a southwest - northeast oriented, micro-tidal (0.8-1.2 m mean and 1.6 m spring range), sediment-starved and wave-dominated shoreline characterized by alternating headlands and barriers. The coast is most susceptible to south and southeast waves generated by storms that pass to the west of Rhode Island. Shoreline erosion along the Rhode Island coast ranges from 0.1 feet per year (.02 m/yr) to 3.9 feet per year (1.2 m/yr).

The Rhode Island southern shoreline is in many ways typical of other coastal areas along the east coast of the U.S., and the processes that formed other east coast shorelines are at work in Rhode Island. Yet the south shore of Rhode Island is unique due to the combination of glacial depositional processes and subsequent post-glacial sea level rise that have resulted in the current barrier/headland configuration of the Rhode Island coast.

About 14,000 years ago the global climate warmed up very rapidly and added much additional glacial meltwater to the ocean, causing the sea to rise rapidly across Block Island and Rhode Island Sounds to arrive in the vicinity of the present shoreline by 4,000 years ago. Ocean waves eroded the glacial deposits, carrying sediment in wind-driven currents alongshore and depositing it as barrier spits in the adjacent low-lying areas between the topographically higher headlands. As the spits developed and grew alongshore from the headlands, the low-lying areas behind the spits were almost entirely sealed off from the ocean, forming coastal lagoons (coastal ponds) connected to the sea through narrow inlets. The inlets are the conduits for the exchange of water and sediment in and out of the lagoons, and before they were fixed in place by jetties, they were maintained by tidal forces and by surges from storms. From the time of this early spit formation to the present, the glacial river deposits and glacial till have continued to erode, and the barrier spits and coastal lagoons have moved landward and upward, all by the force of storm waves and storm surges controlled by the level of the sea at the time of the storm. The present arrangement of barriers and headlands is controlled by the topography of the glacial till and glacial river sediment. The areas of glacial deposits with higher relief are exposed at the surface and form the present headlands, while those areas below mean low water are now topped by barrier spits or submerged by coastal lagoons.

The State of Rhode Island has endeavored to restrict new coastal development and limit repairs to existing development in order to mitigate coastal hazards, provide and protect recreational beach areas and reduce the expenses incurred by towns, the state of Rhode Island, and the nation due to storm damage and erosion.

It is the policy of the State of Rhode Island (through creation and operation of RICRMC):

"to preserve, protect, develop, and where possible restore the coastal resources of the state for this and succeeding generations through comprehensive and coordinated long-range planning and management designed to produce the maximum benefit for society from such coastal resources... "

The process, which includes erosion-rate driven setbacks for new construction or significant alterations, property acquisition and public education, is a long-term policy. The benefits realized will continue to increase through time, however, there are several immediate concerns that need to be addressed. These include some measure of frontal erosion protection for existing structures, the need for recreational beaches and public access and environmental restoration.

Existing Property Protection

In order to protect ecological systems, provide lateral public access, prevent detrimental affects to adjacent properties and provide recreation beaches, structural shoreline protection is prohibited in most areas of Rhode Island. While this policy ensures for future use of these areas, current erosion has placed many properties and municipal infrastructure in immediate danger from small to moderate sized storms. These property owners, town and state managers, need interim measures to protect property and infrastructure while the long-term planning continues and solutions are implemented (property acquisition and relocation/elevation of structures). Beach replenishment is the interim measure. Replenishment does protect property and infrastructure without detrimental affects to access or recreational beaches. The expense of replenishment has been criticized as wasteful spending. Without some acceptable measure of protecting existing property while development is moved landward away from the immediate coast, similar expenses will be incurred (by the nation) due to storm events and long-term erosion.

Tourism/Recreation/Public Access

The tourism economy in Rhode Island has recently exceeded the $2 billion dollar mark. This revenue is generated primarily by water-adjacent activities (beaches and boating). This source of revenue, which can help to mitigate coastal issues, requires the presence of recreational beaches for the persons visiting the beach for the day, renting a cottage for a week or seasonal homeowners as well as regional, national and foreign tourists. In addition to the tax revenues lost from the tourism and recreation economy, numerous jobs will be lost and lifestyles affected.

Environmental Restoration

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a feasibility study to restore habitat and improve water quality in coastal lagoons that have stabilized inlets. Part of this restoration includes dredging of settling basins and flood tidal deltas. This type of project benefits ecological systems, improves water quality. Additional benefits include improved navigation (providing recreational opportunities and supporting local economies) and puts sand on the beach (protecting property, infrastructure and providing recreational beaches).

Corps Project Structure

In order to meet the cost to benefit ratios of a federally funded project, the project area must be densely developed. Much of Rhode Island's coastline, including the more developed sections, do not meet the federal ratios. This policy encourages development and maintenance of overly developed areas constituting large hazard risks and future expenses. The State of Rhode Island is actively trying to limit coastal development which will reduce the federal burdens of storm and erosion damages to property and infrastructure.

Where environmental restoration opportunities exist, the funding structure for these types of projects should reflect the benefits realized. When there are enviromnental restoration opportunities and/or an existing long-term commitment and plan to reduce development that will be impacted by coastal processes, the required cost to benefit ratio and non-federal cost share should be adjusted accordingly.

Additionally, the existing reconnaissance/feasibility study/implementation phase organization of Corps projects is cumbersome, inefficient and discouraging. The organization of projects needs to be reviewed to reduce the cost to both the federal government and the non-federal sponsor as well as result in more implemented projects and less expensive studies.

Conclusion

Rhode Island needs federally-sponsored replenishment projects as interim protection for existing development and recreational beaches. Design and funding of these projects should reflect the state's commitment to reducing coastal hazards and protecting and restoring the environment. National benefits include a reduction in post-storm damage expenses, improved environment as well as sustained and increase of revenue from the recreation and tourism economy.

Rhode Island desires to continue discussion of these issues to the mutual benefit of towns, states and the nation. Thank you again for the opportunity to express our interests and concerns.