The Oakland Beach seawall area could see some major changes thanks to the Rhode Island Sea Grant and students in the University of Rhode Island landscape architecture program.
The Sea Grant, which is a partnership between the university, National Sea Grant College Program the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as the state, received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, to explore the use of green infrastructure through pilot coastal communities throughout the state.
Teresa Crean and Pam Rubinoff from the Sea Grant said that pilot communities had to not only be located along the coast but also be publicly owned and significant concerns with sea level rise and storm surges.
“Oakland Beach was really an ideal site,” Crean said. “It’s a major public asset and is used in a lot of different ways by the public.”
The project looks at three varied coastal communities to see the different challenges each site would present. Oakland Beach is considered the “iconic” beach and boardwalk atmosphere. The other sites, Wickford and Newport, provide a commercial village and cliff walk, respectively. Then the information gathered and the techniques perfected can be applied to similar communities across the state.
Rubinoff explained that green infrastructure is important because, currently, stormwater isn’t being filtered through natural means and ends up polluting the waters, which “impacts the health of the bay and the people who’ve come to enjoy it.”
Green infrastructure, able to absorb large amounts of water, can also reduce flooding where asphalt isn’t pervious enough to take the rainfall in.
One of the stipulations of the grant was to incorporate student involvement, to help “foster and train” the next generation. Through the grant, juniors in the landscape architecture department worked on redesigning Oakland Beach using green infrastructure, supplementing the work and receiving technical assistance of the Sea Grant.
The students visited in September and presented their projects at the end of last semester. Richard Sheridan, the professor overseeing the project, said partnering with the Sea Grant gave his students a “powerful and unique opportunity to put good practices into action.”
Students got a better idea of how this industry works in the real world and their own ability to make a difference in communities.
As concerns like sea level rise, water pollution and climate change worsen, green infrastructure can be used to combat some of the effects. Green infrastructure can prepare a space for sea level rise, offsetting erosion, and can help filtrate storm water to hopefully improve water quality.
“Over the past few years, Oakland Beach has seen a lot of beach closings,” Sheridan said. “By moving things around and creating a coastal buffer, they could see a big decrease in those closings.”
The student projects aren’t viable for actual implementation, but professionals from the Sea Grant, including local engineers, coastal ecologists and landscapers, among others, will be looking at them for each community for different suggestions.
Crean said, “Students have less real world restrictions and can be more creative, with more out-of-the-box ideas. They look at these sites with a fresh set of eyes and there may be elements we can pull from that.”
With two other communities to work on, Rubinoff said that the project will be completed in another year, but Oakland Beach could see a conceptual drawing by this spring. Communities are in no way mandated to take the drawing and implement them, but one main thing the Sea Grant looked at when choosing their pilot communities was whether or not the cities already taking “proactive” environmentally-conscious actions. They wanted to know whether or not a city would be open to implementing the final drawings
Rubinoff said, “Warwick is already working on their storm water systems and trying to reduce contamination in the bay. The city has been very interested and supportive in our work.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian agreed that this was an “exciting partnership.” He said that the city had previously looked into dredging Brushneck Cove, but the approximate cost, $40 million, was just too out of reach for the city.
The work by the Sea Grant provides a viable cost-effective and proactive solution.
“These design changes will reduce sedimentation and improve water quality,” he said.
Crean said, “The city already has a lot of momentum behind it. These initiatives at Oakland Beach would just complement what the city is already doing.”