State disaster declaration is a necessary step that allows Rhode Island to seek federal disaster relief funds from FHWA
PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee today issued a Declaration of Disaster Emergency to help address significant damage to the Newport Cliff Walk that occurred in 2022.
This State Disaster Declaration designation means the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) may now apply for federal Emergency Relief (ER) assistance from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to help make needed repairs to the historic Cliff Walk. FHWA’s ER program provides federal funding for key infrastructure damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.
The partial collapse of the iconic Cliff Walk was caused by sea erosion and exacerbated by severe inclement weather incidents over the last year causing the City of Newport to close a portion of the walkway indefinitely.
“Newport’s Cliff Walk is one of Rhode Island’s top attractions, drawing over a million visitors per year. The collapse and the partial closure could cause significant harm to Newport tourism, a top driver of the local economy,” said Governor McKee. “The impacted area is now closed because it is at risk of further erosion and collapse, which poses a threat to public safety. I thank Mayor Xay Khamsyvoravong for his advocacy and engaging with our team, Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse to pursue solutions.”
“When I took office at the end of last year I immediately began seeking help to fix the Cliff Walk,” said Newport Mayor Xay Khamsyvoravong. “Restoring this iconic American vista for future generations to enjoy will require local, state and federal partnership, which the Governor is opening a pathway to with this declaration.”
The Governor has directed the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to work with the City of Newport to secure $10 million in federal disaster relief funding. The Governor’s Declaration of Disaster Emergency is required under federal statute to enable the State to request these federal funds.
In 2013, Reed and Whitehouse helped secure $5.13 million in federal ER funding to make repairs to the Cliff Walk in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in October of 2012. And over the years, a combination of state and federal funding has helped finance improvements and repairs to portions of the Cliff Walk battered by erosion, waves, storms, and tidal surges. And in 2009, Reed and Whitehouse successfully delivered a $487,000 federal earmark to help upgrade the Cliff Walk.
“The federal government should do its part to ensure the safety and sustainability of this national treasure. The Governor’s state disaster declaration is a needed first step in the state’s application process,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed. “I commend the State and City of Newport for working collaboratively. I believe RIDOT should make these repairs a priority and make wise use of available federal funds and resources to advance the project and keep the Cliff Walk safe and accessible for all.”
“The City by the Sea’s magnificent Cliff Walk experienced some major damage last year,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “I’m pleased that Governor McKee is taking this initial step to open the door to federal partnership, and I look forward to helping advance Mayor Khamsyvoravong’s mission to restore the full path for locals and visitors to enjoy.”
“Earlier this year, I joined Mayor Khamsyvoravong in Newport to visit the damage to the Cliff Walk. While there, we met with many local entrepreneurs whose businesses depend on the one million annual visitors the Cliff Walk brings to the City by the Sea,” said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. “Today’s declaration brings us one step closer to rebuilding this important landmark. Through cross-government collaboration, we are ready to deliver for the citizens of Newport.”
Earlier this year, on behalf of the City of Newport, Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, and Senator Whitehouse jointly submitted a $5 million earmark request to the Appropriations Committee for engineering design and planning services for repairs and resiliency enhancements at the Cliff Walk. The earmark process is lengthy and requires approval by the Senate, the House of Representative, and the President. In the Republican-controlled House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has already signaled his intention to cap the total amount for earmarks at 0.5 percent of discretionary funding in the coming fiscal year, down from 1 percent in 2022.
The state estimates comprehensive Cliff Walk repairs could cost up to a total of $13.75 million.