A new law creates a training requirement for local planning board members to help ensure that they calculate the potential for flooding and its effects when weighing local development proposals.
The law, the result of legislation sponsored by Rep. Lauren H. Carson and Sen. Jeanine Calkin, requires all members of municipal planning boards or commissions in Rhode Island to participate in a free training program on the effects of rising sea levels and development in flood plains.
The legislation (2017-H 5042aa, 2016-S 1005), approved by lawmakers Sept. 19 and signed into law by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, was one of the recommendations made in a 2016 report by a legislative commission that studied the economic risks posed to Rhode Island by flooding and sea rise. Representative Carson was the chairwoman of that commission.
“As sea level rises and we experience more severe weather events, Rhode Island communities must engage in thoughtful, careful planning and development to better protect public and private assets well into the future. In most communities, municipal planning boards are volunteers with varying degrees of knowledge about how flooding and sea rise might change their community in the future and what they can do to encourage development that is better-suited to those changes,” Carson of Newport said in a release.
“This is a very simple, quick means of professional development that will arm municipal planners with information about these risks and help steer Rhode Island toward more resiliency, while protecting public and private investments from flood losses in the near and more-distant future.”
The new law requires that each member of local planning boards or commissions annually take a free, one-hour annual training on the effects of development in a flood plain and the effects of sea level rise. Development of the training program was included in last year’s state budget, and the program has already been developed at the University of Rhode Island.
The requirement applies statewide and not only to coastal communities because flooding occurs along inland rivers and water bodies as well, and will become more drastic and frequent as sea level rises. Inland communities also need to plan development that is more resilient and adapted to the reality of flooding near water bodies.
“Municipal planning boards play a very important role in each community’s development, and collectively, the development of the whole state. Although this legislation seeks just a small investment of their time, it will pay off larger dividends in ensuring that future development is planned in ways that are meant to protect against the risks of flooding and sea rise. If planning boards demand more resilient buildings that are less at risk from storms and flooding, they will protect public and private resources well into the future,” said Senator Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).
The legislative study commission found that, while businesses are coming to terms with the threat of sea level rise and conceptualize solutions, there is still much work to be done to ensure the Ocean State adequately adapts to sea level rise. The commission suggested the state work toward meeting adaptation goals that embrace the broader aim of protecting Rhode Island’s overall economy from the flooding and rising waters, and this legislation was one of the recommendations it made to help Rhode Island adapt development.