Rhode Island will allocate $12 million in grants to support climate resiliency projects in 19 communities in the Municipal Resilience Program, according to a Jan. 25 press release from Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.
Funding for these grants comes from the 2022 Green Bond, which “directs $16 million to the MRP to help communities restore and improve vulnerable coastal habitats, river and stream floodplains and infrastructure,” according to a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management press release.
The MRP and these grants come as municipalities reevaluate the impacts of climate change in their communities.
Rhode Islanders are “realizing the financial consequences of chronic flooding,” said William Fazioli, the executive director of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, who added that the state pays for “not just the cost of recovering (from flooding), but the impact on businesses and housing values.”
“We’re mostly a coastal state,” said Sue AnderBois, the director of climate and government relations for The Nature Conservancy’s R.I. branch and a member of the Providence City Council. “Even our towns that are not on the coasts are seeing things like saltwater intrusion or flooding or a lot of water-based issues.”
Funding posed the largest barrier to many community climate resiliency projects, AnderBois said, noting that some communities had difficulty sourcing funds for projects without concrete plans — but, she added, “why would you make a plan for something you don’t have the money for?”
Fazioli added that the Infrastructure Bank was a “good resource” given the tight margins of municipal budgets.
AnderBois noted that TNC and the Infrastructure Bank offer MRP workshops which help local leaders draft grants and submit them for funding. Centered around the attendees, the workshops are “really participatory (and) pretty fast paced,” AnderBois said. “People have a good time, and then you leave with this action plan of what comes next.”
After completing the workshops, municipalities’ proposals were approved by the R.I. Infrastructure Bank before being sent to various state and local agencies.
This “broad set of eyes” included the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Center, the R.I. Department of Health and the selection committees for the projects, Fazioli said.
For some projects, a major roadblock is an effect that Fazioli called “project inflation,” which describes the effect of inflation on a project’s budget over its timeline, making materials more expensive, Fazioli said.
So “we wanted to get the money out the door as quickly as possible,” he said. The bank received the Green Bond funding in November 2023, allocating the funds two months later, in January 2024.
According to Fazoli and AnderBois, the grants prioritized projects on green infrastructure, or greenery-based solutions to managing wastewater and stormwater.
Some proposals included the development of gray infrastructure — like pipes and treatment plants — but “there are other places where towns can seek funding for that kind of opportunity,” AnderBois added.
East Providence, Hopkinton, Newport, Providence, Warren and Woonsocket will received over $1 million for their project proposals.
Newport received the largest grant, with over $2.3 million allocated to improving the King Park Shoreline. The project involves removing a section of the existing concrete seawall, which is “failing and in disrepair,” wrote Patricia Reynolds, the director of planning and economic development for Newport, in an email to The Herald.
According to Fazioli, Newport is a “key city” due to its coastal location.
Newport residents are “intensely aware” of the impacts of climate change on their neighborhoods, Reynolds wrote. Participants of Newport’s MRP workshop identified hurricanes and sea level rise to be “top hazards facing the city.” Newport will continue to pursue funding for similar projects in the future, she added.
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The Infrastructure Bank wants to make this funding more “sustainable,” Fazioli said. The institution hopes to develop a framework that includes not just grants but other financing solutions, such as revolving loan programs.
AnderBois is “jazzed” about the future of Ocean State climate resiliency and the use of participatory planning strategies. She added that the grant brainstorming process “provided a really good model going forward.”
Maya Kelly is a Metro senior staff writer who covers health and environment. When she’s not at The Herald, you can find her hanging from an aerial silk, bullet journaling, or stress-baking.