by Dean Audet, PE, Senior Vice President | Business Line Leader
Earlier this week, the Providence Journal published a front-page article describing the impacts that rising sea levels due to climate change are having on property values along the Rhode Island shoreline. This article is based on a study by Columbia University and the First Street Foundation in which the changes in shoreline home values in New England were studied. That study found that, between 2005 and 2017, shoreline homes in Rhode Island have lost $44.7 million in appreciation. Shoreline homes in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have lost $403 million in appreciation. Examples were provided of individual homes in areas with increasing coastal flooding as having been worth 64% more if the same house was not located on the shore. This is in contrast to the fact that home values have generally been increasing.
The article concluded that rising sea levels are contributing to increased nuisance flooding, eroding shorelines, and that increased impacts of more severe storms are driving these impacts. The article quotes a projected sea level rise of 11.5 feet by 2100, but that is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “extreme” projection. Rhode Island’s policy is to actually plan for 9.6 feet of sea level rise by 2100 and for 3.25 feet by 2050. Compare that to the 6 inches of sea level rise over that last 40 years that is already stressing these properties. The article also quotes the 2018 National Climate Assessment prepared by the federal government that as much as $106 billion of real estate could be below sea level nationwide by 2050.
The purpose of this blog is not to encourage people to invest in “cheap” waterfront property, but rather to consider the potential value of retreat. For many of these properties, engineered options to protect these properties do not exist. While individual homes can be raised, the infrastructure to access these homes, such as utilities and roads, is limited as to what could cost-effectively be done using public funding.
Instead, strategically retreating the built environment can be a more cost-effective approach. In addition to removing structures from flood-prone areas, strategic retreat can be important as it gives opportunity to develop nature-based or hybrid systems that combine gray and nature-based infrastructure (Using Natural Resources to Reduce Flooding Risk Blog). These systems could be developed on properties acquired as part of a retreat plan, which could then protect remaining properties with less risk. The big question is how to implement a retreat plan that is orderly and does not just wait for property owners to abandon their homes and businesses after occupying those structures is no longer tenable.
Read the Providence Journal article: Washed away: Rising water in R.I. begins to erode worth of coastal homes
About the Author:
Dean Audet, PE leads our Water Environment and Natural Resources Business Line. Throughout his career, he has completed a wide range of civil and environmental engineering projects, working with multiple technical disciplines. These projects have included stormwater management, watershed management, wastewater, solid waste, site remediation, environmental compliance, and land development. Dean’s principal strength has been managing large and complex multidisciplinary projects, where his range of technical experience is very valuable.