May 11, 2017

Senators Whitehouse & Carper Hear From Rhode Island Experts at U.S. Senate Coastal Infrastructure Roundtable

CRMC Director Grover Fugate and Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank CEO Jeff Diehl discuss challenges facing Rhode Island infrastructure with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) and Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, and Tom Carper (D-DE), top Democrat on EPW, held a Senate roundtable highlighting the current state of coastal infrastructure across the country. The Senators were joined by Grover Fugate, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC); Jeffrey Diehl, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank; and Tony Pratt, President of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, and Administrator of the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section within the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“America’s infrastructure needs upgrades across the board. That’s especially true along our coasts, where climate change poses serious threats to coastal communities, like sea level rise and more severe storms,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “As we heard today from our Coastal Resources Management Council’s Director, Grover Fugate, Rhode Island is preparing for up to 12 feet of sea level rise.  For the sake of our economy and way of life, we need to support the work highlighted today by Jeff Diehl, of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, and invest in coastal infrastructure that meets today’s standards and can withstand the major changes experts like Grover predict.  Thank you to Senator Carper and everyone who took part in today’s important discussion.  I look forward to using what we discussed to help come up with bipartisan infrastructure legislation.”

“Our coast in Rhode Island and many other areas of this nation is under threat.  It’s under threat from severe storms that we see, like hurricanes and nor’easters, but also, as we see in our state, a doubling of the sea level rise rate,” said CRMC Executive Director Fugate. “In the last 90 years, we’ve had about 10 inches of sea level rise.  We could potentially see 10 feet.  The magnitude of change in that is staggering.  Our bridges, our roads, our sewage treatment plants, our water supplies, and our utilities are all at threat, and we need to upgrade the standards to which they’re built and invest more in these areas.”

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state of U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in their annual Infrastructure Report Card. Our troubled infrastructure, including roads and highways and drinking and wastewater systems, is in particular peril along America’s coasts. In these areas, rising seas, storm surge, and consequences of extreme weather events, can often overwhelm and degrade local infrastructure.

“In Delaware, we have already rebuilt dunes and replenished beaches in an attempt to push the rising seas back from our coastal communities,” said Senator Carper. “Without smart, forward-looking investments in our country’s infrastructure – both built infrastructure like seawalls and levees, and natural infrastructure such as marshes and wetlands – we will continue to see flooded streets, retreating coastlines and communities that need to be rebuilt after every storm. Coastal states especially understand that resiliency projects are critical, but we also know that they only address the symptoms of a much larger issue – global climate change. Ultimately, we need to work together to tackle the root causes of climate change if we want to protect vulnerable coastal communities in Delaware, Rhode Island and around the world. I thank my colleague Senator Whitehouse for his years of work on this issue and all our witnesses here today. A special thank you to Tony Pratt for highlighting the lessons we’ve learned in Delaware and how we’ve managed to create new opportunities for our state as a result. Today’s discussion will be incredibly helpful as we examine infrastructure priorities this Congress.”

In February, the Environment and Public Works Committee held its first legislative hearing of the 115th Congress to discuss the urgent need to modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. During that hearing, both Senators Carper and Whitehouse discussed the bipartisan consensus to make smart investments in infrastructure and the growing threat climate change posed to infrastructure in their coastal states.


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