Climate Change Bears Down on Naval Station Newport, Aquidneck Island
October 24, 2022
The U.S. Department of Defense has concerns about sea-level rise and other climate-change impacts on Naval Station Newport, along the shores of Aquidneck Island.
“Since 2010, the Department of Defense has acknowledged that the planet’s changing climate has a dramatic effect on our missions, plans and installations,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said last year. “The department will immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments to mitigate this driver of insecurity.”
The Aquidneck Island Climate Caucus, led by Rep. Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, recently hosted a discussion about resiliency plans for the Naval station.
The Oct. 23 online event, titled “Newport Naval Station Resilience: What’s the Plan?” featured Cornelia Mueller, community planning liaison officer at Naval Station Newport, and Pam Rubinoff, a coastal resilience expert at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.
Mueller said the climate crisis is a serious problem for the military training installation and the three municipalities — Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport — that share space on Aquidneck Island. She noted it’s both an economic and safety issue for the largest island in Narragansett Bay.
To address the local challenges presented by the climate crisis, the Navy worked with the University of Rhode Island, municipal officials, and local stakeholders, such as the Aquidneck Land Trust and the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District, to create a Military Installation Resilience Review for short-term preparedness and long-term planning. Much of the recently completed review is not available for public consumption, but a 12-page outline can be found here.
The review’s researchers ran 12 scenarios with 1 foot, 3 feet, and 5 feet of sea-level rise against modeled weather events. The modeling also included “significant” expansion planned for Naval Station Newport during the next 10 years, which will include more National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ships and a larger Coast Guard presence, according to Mueller.
The work noted the Navy and other Aquidneck Island entities share concerns. For example, the Navy relies on the Newport Water Division for drinking water and on the Long Wharf Pump Station, owned by the city of Newport, for its wastewater treatment.
The kind of climate work Austin spoke about during his 2021 visit to Virginia’s Naval Station Norfolk is taking place at Navy Region Mid-Atlantic installations, including Naval Station Newport.
The Navy’s response to the climate crisis has included natural solutions, such as dune restoration and better protecting coastal marshes and shoreline vegetation. Man-made solutions have included berms and flood walls.
Mueller said Naval Station Newport is hoping to restore Elizabeth Brook. The waterway, which begins in Middletown and empties near Gate 2 in Newport, is causing flooding problems for both municipalities and the Navy. She also noted there are plans to build buffers, create green space, and use man-made structures to address the increased flooding being experienced on Aquidneck Island.
The review found 152 “assets of concern,” such as generators, wastewater treatment facilities, and communications, energy, and transportation infrastructure. The review also found it would take 14 hours to evacuate Aquidneck Island during clear skies.
Rubinoff said there are significant concerns that need to be addressed and the solutions will require island-wide collaboration.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has identified climate change as a critical national security issue. The crisis will continue to amplify operational demands on the force, degrade installations and infrastructure, increase health risks to service members, and require modifications to existing and planned equipment needs.
The agency has noted that the past decade, 2011-2020, was the warmest on record. It has said the increase in thermal energy trapped in the atmosphere is having enormous consequences around the globe.
The DOD’s 2022 Climate Adaptation Report assesses climate exposure related to eight hazards: coastal flooding, riverine flooding, heat, drought, energy demand, land degradation, wildfire, and historical extreme weather events. It also notes that the agency is working to incorporate environmental justice into the implementation of its evolving Climate Adaptation Plan.
“Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more frequent, extreme, and unpredictable weather conditions caused by climate change are worsening existing security risks and creating new challenges,” according to the latest version of the report. “Climate change is increasing the demand and scope for military operations at home and around the world. At the same time, it is undermining military readiness and imposing increasingly unsustainable costs on the Department of Defense.”
The Aquidneck Island Climate Caucus is planning additional discussions to be held over the winter, on topics including updates on federal legislation, 2023 state legislative goals, ocean health, offshore wind turbines are coming, “Act on Climate: What are the immediate steps?” and “Where are we going with fossil fuels?”