The Green Infrastructure Coalition sat down with Shaun O'Rourke, Director of Stormwater and Resiliency at the RI Infrastructure Bank, a few weeks ago to learn about his work and the goals of the Bank's resiliency programs. Here is that interview:

GIC: Shaun, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us about your office and your goals.

Shaun: I started as Director of Stormwater and Resiliency at Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank about four months ago and I’m focused on increasing investment in green infrastructure and climate resiliency projects across the state. Most recently, I worked at the Trust for Public Land and had the opportunity to work with many GIC members through the Climate Smart Cities Program. In that role, I learned very quickly that there is a lot of energy, expertise, and collaboration on green infrastructure in Rhode Island and I wanted to be a part of the community! I’m looking forward to representing Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank as a key project partner in accelerating and scaling green infrastructure projects with state agencies, municipalities, and GIC members.

On September 15th, my role at RIIB expanded when Governor Gina Raimondo appointed me to serve as the Chief Resilience Officer for the state. I’m tasked with developing a Climate Resiliency Action Strategy by July 1, 2018. I recognize that the timeline is short but we’re building from a strong foundation of work shaped by many organizations and agencies across Rhode Island. The Strategy will expand on these efforts to identify and prioritize a series of resiliency investments and resources to better prepare our state for a changing climate. The priorities will be informed through statewide outreach in communities from coast to upland.

GIC: We know that you have been holding meetings around the State. Tell us about your local meetings and your plans to engage RI in a conversation about adaptation and resilience?

Shaun: We are excited about the opportunity to engage community leaders across the state on climate resiliency priorities in their local areas. Thus far, we’ve held four “Resiliency Roundtables” in partnership with local hosts and have six additional roundtables planned for the coming weeks. Each event has been unique and we highly value the participant feedback we’ve received. In an effort to be responsive, we have used this feedback to evolve our program with each iteration. Participation has also been terrific; we have engaged with 114 community leaders so far and look forward to working with hundreds more. Although we are still early in the process, common themes have begun to emerge, including the need to better understand what climate adaptation work has been done to date and how this statewide strategy can incorporate and build on the findings from that prior work. Moving forward, we are working with local hosts to compile a list of research reports, studies, and projects completed in the target geography to help inform roundtable participants as they prioritize and identify key resiliency themes and resources needed.

GIC: Resiliency is important to many people in Rhode Island. Who is invited to your workshops and who are the meetings targeted for?

Shaun: Given the statewide scale, we are focusing our outreach on “grasstops” leaders. While the meetings are structured to engage local leaders and resiliency experts, everyone is welcome at the meeting. At the first four Resiliency Roundtables participants expressed interest in having informal follow-up meetings with key community groups, facility operators, and other local entities to better understand the critical issues. These follow-up conversations have already begun and will continue in communities across the state as we progress through the strategy development process.

GIC: Can you tell us what you are hearing at the local meetings so far?

Shaun: We are learning a lot, and it’s a result of the interest and willingness of so many to partner on this important effort. The variety of input from coastal and inland communities has been helpful in generating a true statewide set of resiliency priorities. We are hearing concerns about sea level rise, beach erosion, and marshland migration on the coast, and issues such as drought and decreased forest heath in the upland. Within the municipalities, common themes have emerged, like the vulnerability of drinking water supply and the need for more resources and expertise on these issues. We are currently working through the input we’ve received from the first four roundtables and are developing a methodology for evaluating resiliency trends and priorities. We look forward to sharing the draft findings soon.

GIC: Our readers may want to join you at a future meeting, What is the schedule for your future meetings?

The next three meetings are scheduled as listed below and details on future meetings will be available at

11/15 @ 12-2 PM – Hosted by Westerly Chamber and Town of Westerly - Westerly Education Center - 23 Friendship St, Westerly (Westerly and Charlestown)

11/17 @ 1-3 PM – Hosted by Aquidneck Island Planning Commission - CCRI Newport - 1 John H Chafee Blvd, Newport (Newport County)

11/28 @ 5:30-7:30 PM – Hosted by Northern Rhode Island Conservation District - Scituate Senior Center - 1315 Chopmist Hill Road, North Scituate (Burrillville, Foster, Glocester, Scituate)

Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your work with the readers of Nature at Work!

This interview was conducted by Nature At Work, a newsletter designed and distributed by the Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition to bring more green space news to our cities and encourage the use of nature to clean, protect, and cool our neighborhoods. Because of climate change, we are seeing increased heat impacts in our city, especially where there are fewer trees, as well as issues with flooding and polluted runoff in our neighborhoods.

The Green Infrastructure Coalition is a collaborative of more than 40 non-profit organizations, businesses, and government agencies focused on using nature to reduce stormwater pollution. We develop projects to demonstrate the powerful role nature can play to create healthier urban environments. We promote policies to create sustainable funding for stormwater management and green infrastructure solutions. And we connect a wide range of partners to share lessons learned in the Providence Metro area and Aquidneck Island.
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