Updated March 26 at 6:24am

Digging deep for infrastructure solution to climate change

To the Editor: In a recent article (“Allens Avenue bizs move to keep out mixed use,” May 26, 2014), Providence Business News reported that Allens Avenue business owners were against mixed-use development along the Allens Avenue waterfront.

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Digging deep for infrastructure solution to climate change


To the Editor:

In a recent article (“Allens Avenue bizs move to keep out mixed use,” May 26, 2014), Providence Business News reported that Allens Avenue business owners were against mixed-use development along the Allens Avenue waterfront.

These business owners are being shortsighted. Protecting and improving Rhode Island’s shorelines will allow the local economy to expand exponentially.

The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center and the Rhode Island Sea Grant are working on a four-year project to develop a “Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan.”

This plan will contain short-term and long-term solutions to problems caused by the weather (such as hurricanes and the like) and by climate change (such as rising sea levels). Ways have to be found to manage the erosion of Rhode Island’s shorelines, reduce the loss of Rhode Island’s salt marshes and reduce the destruction of Rhode Island’s shoreline infrastructure.

Superstorm Sandy proved that a Category 1 hurricane with a modest storm surge could cause horrendous damage. Imagine if a hurricane of this type came directly up Narragansett Bay and collided with the hurricane barrier. A 10- to 12-foot wall of water would inundate the bay shorelines. Thousands of homes and businesses would be destroyed and the pollution caused by the destruction of the numerous above-ground energy-storage facilities in the bay area would be devastating.

There is a way to reduce the damaging effects of hurricane winds and storm surges while providing a billion dollar stimulus to Rhode Island’s economy. The Narragansett Bay Commission has proven that deep underground, constructed hard-rock caverns can be economically built in the Rhode Island area. The pumping facility for their combined sewer-overflow program is located in a constructed hard- rock cavern. Because construction of this cavern was done by the “drill and blast” method, the cost to construct this underground hard rock-cavern was relatively low. Constructed caverns of this type could contain storage tanks for energy products that are now stored above ground in the Narragansett Bay area.

I am advocating that a series of these deep, underground caverns be built at Quonset Point and used to store all energy products now stored above ground, along the shorelines of Narragansett Bay and Mount Hope Bay. Only 2 acres of land at Quonset would be needed for the entrance to this underground cavern complex, which would have unlimited storage capacity. Once all energy products are stored at Quonset, no ocean-going vessels carrying energy products would ever have to enter the upper areas of Narragansett Bay or Mount Hope Bay again.

After all energy products are stored safely underground at Quonset Point, all the above-ground storage facilities could be dismantled and the shoreline areas redeveloped in a pristine and environmentally correct manner. The Narragansett and Mount Hope Bay shorelines would have new parks, bike paths, wetland wildlife preserves, marinas, docking facilities for cruise ships, resort hotels, condominiums and a myriad other new commercial and environmental developments.

The rock-debris created building these hard-rock caverns would be used to build breakwaters and other barriers along Rhode Island’s vulnerable shorelines. These breakwaters and barriers would be designed to reduce the damaging effects of hurricane winds, storm surges and rising sea levels. Rhode Island’s shorelines would become safe, clean and protected from wind, storm surges, terrorist attacks and rising sea-level damage.

The state, the federal government and private energy companies would share the costs and benefits to implement this plan. A 10-year plan, with each stakeholder putting in $33 million per year, would put a billion dollar stimulus into Rhode Island’s economy.

Energy companies want a safe place to store their energy products, and they have the financial resources to design and build the required infrastructure. Rhode Island would become the center for storing and shipping natural gas to Eastern Europe. The federal government wants to improve the bay-area environment, and it has the financial resources to accomplish this goal. The state wants to protect its vulnerable shorelines.

Rhode Island could work with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to design and build the required shoreline infrastructure. Each stakeholder would benefit from this plan.

Thousands of good-paying jobs would be created, state income tax and sales tax revenue would greatly increase, Rhode Island’s shoreline environment would be greatly improved, and the potential damage caused by extreme weather events and rising sea levels would be greatly reduced.

Funds would become available from the public and private sectors to guarantee that every Rhode Islander would have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a stable environment to live in.

Ken Berwick



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