Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP)

Executive Summary

In June 2018, the State of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) adopted the Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) to help Rhode Island’s coastal communities better adapt to the impacts of climate and shoreline changes. The Beach SAMP covers Rhode Island’s entire coastal zone and all 21 coastal communities. The Beach SAMP is comprised of two volumes and includes various guidance and tools for policymakers and coastal managers.

In Chapter 5, CRMC presents the Coastal Hazard Application Guidance”  a five-step risk assessment framework developed for applicants to address the coastal hazards from climate change in permit applications submitted to CRMC for new and substantially improved projects. The purpose of the Coastal Hazard Application Guidance is to ensure that: (1) permit applicants are aware of the coastal risks that could impact their projects; and (2) CRMC can approve projects that are better able to adapt and are more resilient to these risks, to increase safety and other benefits for communities, the environment, and the state’s economy. Through a subsequent regulatory amendment, CRMC now requires (since July 2019) that permit applicants submit a Coastal Hazard Application worksheet with their applications to CRMC. The worksheet must follow the Coastal Hazard Application Guidance provided in the Beach SAMP.

In addition, other state and local decisionmakers are addressed in the Beach SAMP through recommendations in Chapter 6 on how they can incorporate the Coastal Hazard Application Guidance into their own planning processes. Chapter 7 of the Beach SAMP outlines a suite of adaptation measures property owners and decisionmakers can consider  including protection, accommodation, and relocation or managed retreat. The Beach SAMP provides a useful example of innovative shoreline change planning, and serves as a policy model for other state agencies and local governments on how to ensure new development and redevelopment can better adapt and be more resilient to climate change and other coastal hazards.


Beach SAMP Overview

The State of Rhode Island has 21 coastal municipalities and 420 miles of coastline ranging from barrier beaches, historic waterfronts, headlands, bluffs, and salt marshes. Rhode Island is increasingly experiencing the impacts of shoreline change on coastal communities, including storm waves, beach erosion, flooding, and tidal inundation caused by sea-level rise and storm events, which are being exacerbated by climate change. In June 2018, CRMC  the state’s regulatory coastal management agency  published the Beach SAMP. CRMC developed the Beach SAMP with the University of Rhode Island and other state and local agencies, stakeholders, and coastal residents, and utilized up-to-date research and expertise from the public and private sectors. The Beach SAMP includes a range of policy tools and planning recommendations to provide guidance for state and local decisionmakers to “prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and successfully adapt to the impacts of coastal storms, erosion, and sea level rise.” Specifically, the Beach SAMP seeks to improve land-use management decisions and development in response to the threats posed by shoreline change in order to enhance the state’s overall coastal resiliency. It is important to note that the Beach SAMP is a guidance and planning document, and not a regulatory document. 

The Beach SAMP is comprised of two volumes. The first volume contains a synthesis of the state’s current scientific understanding of sea-level rise and coastal risks, the state’s coastal assets, tools available to model and map coastal hazards, and a discussion of risk and recommendations for more resilient development in the coastal zone under CRMC’s jurisdiction. The second volume contains the technical reports that support new research in the first volume, including an analysis of projected future shoreline change, and an analysis of the state’s areas that are most vulnerable to the combined effects of sea-level rise, storm surge, and coastal erosion. CRMC expects to update the Beach SAMP, planning tools, and analyses on an ongoing basis.

The study area for the Beach SAMP encompasses Rhode Island’s entire coastal zone and is the first SAMP of its kind in the United States to both cover a state’s entire coastal zone and climate impacts. The planning boundary was identified through the application of STORMTOOLS, an online, interactive mapping tool that displays different storm inundation scenarios  both with and without sea-level rise  for Rhode Island. CRMC has defined the Beach SAMP Planning Boundary as the land area along the coastline projected to be inundated by seven feet of sea-level rise with a 100-year-return-period storm event, as illustrated using STORMTOOLS. With STORMTOOLS, Rhode Island has the ability to assess risk at the individual structure and parcel level for all properties along the coast and within the Beach SAMP Planning Boundary. 

The following sections highlight some of the plan’s notable features including:

  • Guidance and tools for preparing for coastal impacts from climate change
  • A new CRMC permitting requirement to reduce coastal hazards and promote risk-informed decisionmaking to enhance resilience (Chapter 5)
  • How other state agencies and local governments can incorporate coastal adaptation and resilience into their own processes (Chapter 6)
  • Recommendations for state agencies and municipalities regarding the consideration of comprehensive adaptation strategies (Chapter 7)

Guidance and Tools

The Beach SAMP provides an example of how Rhode Island is working to build a more resilient environment and communities, and a stronger coastal economy. In the Beach SAMP, CRMC outlines three key tools for policymakers and coastal managers: STORMTOOL, the Coastal Environmental Risk Index (a storm surge and wave height prediction tool used to construct a risk index to structures), and MYCOAST (an online reporting tool that provides real-time monitoring data and pictures to coastal managers on the impacts of coastal hazards). These tools inform coastal use and development decisions at the state and local levels. 

Chapter 5: Coastal Hazard Application Guidance

Chapter 5 of the Beach SAMP contains a unique coastal hazard permitting process that can serve as guidance for state and local decisionmakers and applicants seeking to apply for a permit to develop or redevelop in the coastal zone. The permitting guidance includes a five-step risk assessment process for proposed development within the Beach SAMP Planning Boundary and CRMC’s jurisdiction. The process aims to ensure that CRMC-approved projects are designed and built with the applicant’s acknowledgement of coastal hazard risks. It applies to applications for new and substantial improvements to properties. The permitting process recommends property owners and developers adapt proposed development to ongoing and future conditions by taking into account future risks in their project design before submitting a permit application. For example, the process encourages applicants to review maps and tools to assess potential risks from coastal hazards at a project site, and identify the feasibility of design techniques that can avoid or minimize the risk of future losses. As a result, the process promotes the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, and can minimize future damages to and loss of infrastructure and properties. 

The Coastal Hazard Application Guidance was originally included in the Beach SAMP with a recommendation that CRMC adopt it as a permitting requirement through a regulatory amendment. On August 22, 2018, CRMC approved this regulatory amendment (Rhode Island Code of Regulations 650-RICR-20-00-01, Section 1.1.6). Specifically, project applicants, as defined by the regulations, must now complete and file a Coastal Hazard Application worksheet with their permit application in accordance with the template and guidance provided in the Beach SAMP. This is one of the first coastal regulatory programs in the U.S. to put forward permit requirements that address future risk from sea-level rise, storm surge, and coastal erosion.

Chapter 6: State and Municipal Considerations

Chapter 6 of the Beach SAMP discusses how other state agencies and municipalities can incorporate or model the Rhode Island CRMC Coastal Hazard Application Guidance in local actions, like local risk assessments, hazard mitigation plans, or comprehensive plans. This is aimed at raising the awareness of municipal land-use decisionmakers to current and future risks that may not be adequately represented in current maps, particularly for regional projects that cross multiple jurisdictions. 

Chapter 7: Adaptation Strategies and Relocation or Managed Retreat

Chapter 7 of the Beach SAMP covers Adaptation Strategies and Techniques for Coastal Properties, and identifies three main adaptation strategies that can be applied at the individual site level or on a larger scale by individual coastal property owners and developers: 

  1. Protection 
  2. Accommodation 
  3. Retreat (prioritized for high hazard areas) 

The Beach SAMP provides information for policymakers and potential developers and property owners about various adaptation tools  including site selection, terrain management, flood barriers, structural shoreline protections, and modifying and retrofitting structures  that can be proactively implemented to make development more resilient to climate change impacts. The state identifies the accommodation measure of site selection as one of the most important adaptation tools, particularly for new construction. Chapter 7 also includes a subsection on Relocation or Managed Retreat, which explains managed retreat as an adaptation option for coastal property owners. The subsection outlines that various managed retreat considerations and tools can be applied to new and redeveloped properties, including during the phases of site selection, construction, and structural relocation. Chapter 7 concludes with a subsection that acknowledges the state’s need for additional future research, including on the legal implications of managed retreat adaptation measures, and other topics such as buyout programs and rolling easements.



The Beach SAMP provides a useful example of effective and innovative shoreline change planning to address coastal hazard risks. The Beach SAMP includes guidance and tools for state and local decisionmakers and property owners on how to plan for and design new development and redevelopment to be more resilient. The Beach SAMP may serve as a policy model for other state agencies and local governments confronted with shoreline change and climate change impacts.


Publication Date: June 2018

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  • Plans (other)
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