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RI homeowners already suffering due to sea-level rise, Sen. Whitehouse says

Target 12

BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Homeowners in Rhode Island are already starting to see the practical effects of rising sea levels, according to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Whitehouse said when banks across the state consider a new 30-year mortgage, for instance, they’re starting to take into account what the property may look like at the end of that period. And for some houses, especially those along the coast, Rhode Island’s STORMTOOLS website shows many properties may be underwater.

“A valuable waterfront property becomes a valueless underwater property,” Whitehouse told Target 12.

As a result, he said, banks are either increasing mortgage rates or refusing to offer a mortgage at all. And Whitehouse said he expects the problem will only get worse as sea levels continue rising over the coming years.

“You could get into a situation in which, although the property is not always under water, it’s flooded often enough that it has no real value,” Whitehouse said. Once that happens, it’s no longer mortgageable or insurable, he said.

In 2017, Whitehouse narrated a video detailing the challenges Rhode Islanders will face if sea levels rise by projected levels of 10 to 12 feet by the end of the century.

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He told Target 12 that Barrington in particular has work to do, saying it’s at risk as much or more than any other community across the state.

“I don’t know if we need to build a dike around Barrington to protect it; that’s going to be up to the engineers,” Whitehouse said.

Rhode Island will receive $7.8 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law to reinforce transportation assets around the state, and Whitehouse said that money will help many parts of the state. But he also said it won’t be nearly enough to prevent almost three miles of Route 114 in Barrington regularly disappearing underwater by 2035.

“It’s a real harm to people when, in an emergency, the evacuation route is compromised by the emergency that you’re trying to get away from,” he said.

To prevent the worst forecasts of sea-level rise from happening, Whitehouse argues a tax should be placed on carbon emissions.

“If pollution is going to do all this damage to our state, we don’t want it to be free,” he said. “When you look at what Rhode Island is looking at, it’s hard to think of much that’s more important than this to our future.”

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

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