Will Trump Ignore Coastal Infrastructure Impacted by Sea Level Rise?

State and local government leaders dealing with sea level rise want to know if resilience investment will be part of the Trump infrastructure bill.

Coastal states are experiencing or expecting consistent, persistent inundation of coastal facilities like drinking water conveyance systems and roads. City leaders, like Miami Beach, Fla., Mayor Philip Levine, are already addressing what happens to both city and state roads with sea level rise. Sunny day flooding has plagued the concentrated barrier beach for upwards of a decade.

In coastal Massachusetts, where Senator Elizabeth Warren recently held a town hall meeting, recent studies funded through Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Agency grants are calling for coastal resiliency action.

In Beverly, Mass., a city of 40,000 on the shores of Salem Sound and one of the state's 78 coastal communities, at least two low-lying wastewater pump stations and a suite of gas and electric storage, control and transmission stations are threatened by sea level rise. As part of Beverly's 2017 grant-funded coastal resiliency planning efforts, the city actually identified several vulnerable critical assets, including public works and public safety facilities, a transit station critical to two light rail lines connecting the region to Boston and more.

Groups like Salem Sound Coastwatch, a 25-year old, non-profit coastal watershed organization, want to know how are coastal communities going to become resilient to rising seas without Federal help?

The State of Federal Coastal Infrastructure Resiliency Funding

CZM funds projects like Beverly's waterfront resiliency assessment through its Coastal Resilience Grant Program, which relies on annual appropriations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A total of $75 million in NOAA CZM and Coastal Resilience funding could soon disappear under President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget.

At the Salem, Mass., town hall, Warren said she believes in science and will fight for environmental funding. Later, she told EfficientGov:

It’s long past time for Washington to get serious about investing in infrastructure — to keep our country running, our economy growing and to confront the impact of climate change. Coastal communities live with the threat of climate change, as rising sea levels increase the likelihood of flooding and threaten drinking water supplies. I will fight for federal investment in infrastructure to protect our coastal communities as we prepare for rising sea levels.‎"

Rhode Island Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, along with Rep. James Langevin stood with Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian to discuss sea level rise threats to several Ocean State communities. According to the Providence Journal, the roads in Warwick are the most vulnerable to rising seas in the state, according to a recent assessment by the Rhode Island Division of Planning.

In January, the Senate Democrats proposed the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund as one of three climate resiliency programs to share $25 billion in funding under their $1-trillion infrastructure plan.

Trump is currently proposed a $200 billion infrastructure plan, but the details won't be ready until the third quarter, according to Bloomberg Politics.

Rhode Island's study determined that 1.9 miles of the state's roadway in Rhode Island are expected to flood at high tide with one foot of sea level rise. But the state will have to contend with 34 miles of flooded roadway with a three-foot rise, 102 miles at five feet and 175 miles of road wash out with a seven-foot rise.

To put it in perspective, the most recent National Climate Assessment from 2014 has already observed sea level rise increases of up to two feet in the Northeast.

But upon taking office, Trump dumped the previous administration's climate action plans, which this assessment supported.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson recently brought the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to West Palm Beach, Fla., for a field hearing on sea level rise, according to E&E News. If the administration denies climate change is a problem, it may also deny solutions like infrastructure spending to help communities with adaptation, Nelson said.

In addition to environmental groups, state leaders dealing with sea level rise also want to know how a Federal government that rejects climate change will prepare infrastructure with consistent, persistent flooding that is expected to increase.

These are all changes that are coming at us pretty fast in terms of geologic time and that we need to prepare for with adequate infrastructure to meet the needs of Rhode Island communities,” Whitehouse told his constituents.

How States & Cities Take Action

In February, the Massachusetts Seaport Economic Council granted $5 million in state funding to 13 coastal communities. The Bay State started funding coastal economic development through this program under a 1996 Seaport Bond Bill, and the Council was relaunched in 2015 under an executive order from Governor Charlie Baker.

Under annual appropriations to the state's Housing & Economic Development agency, the Council awards grants for capital expenses under five categories -- including coastal infrastructure -- twice per year. Individual projects are capped at $1 million, and a 20 percent match by communities is required. According to Baker's press office, the grants don't depend on Federal funding. The state's FY2018 allocation to the Council has not been confirmed yet.

In Florida, communities like Miami Beach are not waiting idle for waters to rise. Over the next five years, the city will spend $400 to $500 million on costly defenses like raising roads and installing numerous pump stations, according to the Architect's Newspaper.

The city has funded $200 million of these efforts by doubling stormwater fees, and imposes fees of up to 5 percent of construction costs on developers of buildings that are more than 7,000 square feet, if they fail to get LEED Gold certified.   

Editor's Note: Andrea Fox is a former board member of Salem Sound Coastwatch and former outreach coordinator of Massachusetts CZM.

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