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Senate OKs package of Sosnowski bills that would address safety of dams throughout state

STATE HOUSE — The Senate today passed a package of bills introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) that looks to improve the safety of dams throughout the state.

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The legislation is the result of an annual report from the Department of Environmental Management on dam safety. Each of the bills addresses a different issue that was raised as an area of concern in the report.

The first bill (2022-S-2294) would amend dam safety standards to require the State Building Code Standards Committee to take into account the effect of climate change on inundation areas below dams classified as high, significant, or low hazard.

“This addresses construction in inundation areas downstream from dams, and also is a good opportunity to educate people about those dams and the property damage that could result if that dam were to fail,” said Senator Sosnowski. “This would help property owners to think about how they would proceed with any construction in those areas.”

The second bill (2022-S-2295) would authorize the Department of Environmental Management to assess administrative penalties for failure to comply with emergency action plans relative to significant or high hazard dams and would mandate that the department and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency establish a notification system in the event of severe weather conditions consisting of dam advisories, dam watches and dam warnings.

The third bill (2022-S-2297A) would establish a fund for the purpose of facilitating the repair or removal of high hazard or significant hazard dams that are unsafe when the dam is classified as an orphan or insolvent dam. The state would have the right of cost recovery against any dam owner for all sums of money expended by the fund plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation.

“The state has a number of dams whose ownership is a mystery due to how long ago they were built,” said Senator Sosnowski. “There are other owners of problematic dams who just don’t have the financial means to carry out repairs, yet those repairs need to be done for purposes of public safety and property protection. This fund would allow the state to assess and repair those dams so they don’t pose a threat to people or property downstream.”

The measures now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.