ecoRI News in Brief


Compiled by ecoRI News staff
June 7, 2023

AG Seeks Intervenor Status in Westerly Right of Way Issue

PROVIDENCE — The attorney general is diving headfirst into a coastal squabble over shoreline access.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Peter Neronha announced his office submitted a petition for intervenor status to the Coastal Resources Management Council’s (CRMC) right-of-way subcommittee as it considers declaring the Spring Avenue Extension in Westerly a protected public access point to the shore.

In his motion, Neronha seeks to affirm the Spring Avenue Extension ROW, near Weekapaug Point in Westerly, as a state-designated ROW, characterizing it as a “important public access point to the Westerly waterfront and to valuable public trust resources.”

In a statement to the press, Neronha pledged to fight for the public coastal access provided by the ROW in Westerly.

“The time has come to turn back the tide on private encroachment on the public’s right to access our coast and waterways, a right that is enshrined in our state’s constitution,” Neronha said.

It’s not the first time Neronha has commented on the Spring Avenue Extension ROW. In a letter sent to CRMC officials last November, he laid out the long history and land-use records of the Spring Avenue Extension as a public road.

The ROW in question is near the start of Quonochontaug Barrier Beach, a nearly 2-mile peninsula that is used almost exclusively by waterfront property owners and members of the Weekapaug Fire District in the summer. Shoreline activists assert the history of the public access point has been affirmed for decades.

The Weekapaug Fire District asserts that its private property, and say members of the public accessing the shore using the Spring Avenue Extension point are trespassing.

It’s just one of the latest and most high-profile flashpoints in shoreline access around the state. While the right to walk along and “enjoy the privileges of the shore” is enshrined in the state Constitution, where public access begins and private property ends is an answer to a question that has eluded lawmakers, law enforcement, property owners and the public for generations.

The CRMC’s ROW subcommittee is expected to start hearings on the Spring Avenue Extension sometime next month, with a decision expected later this year.

June 5, 2023

Burrillville Land Trust Preserves 65 Acres of Farmland

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Thanks to the generosity of a northwestern Rhode Island family, the Burrillville Land Trust was able to buy a 65-acre parcel in Pascoag known for its prime agricultural soils.

For more than 40 years, Ernie and Norma O’Leary grew corn for the family’s dairy herd on the land, which abuts the Buck Hill Management Area. After Ernie O’Leary passed away in 2021, Norma O’Leary worked to fulfill her late husband’s wish of seeing the land preserved. On May 17, she fulfilled his wish, selling the property to the land trust.

Funding for the purchase came from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, The Nature Conservancy, the Bafflin Foundation, the June Rockwell Levy Foundation, and members of the Burrillville Land Trust. More than half of the $250,000 purchase price originated from the DEM Open Space Grant Program, which is funded by voter-approved green economy bonds.

The O’Leary family will continue to grow corn on the property via a lease agreement with the land trust. Eventually, the land trust will develop a small community garden and a hiking trail next to other conserved land. DEM holds a conservation easement over the property, permanently limiting its use and protecting its conservation values. The leased area will continue to be farmed but closed off for any and all public use.

“The land will continue to be farmed as Ernie wanted,” Norma O’Leary said. “I am very pleased
with how this worked out and know that Ernie would have felt the same.”

“Agriculture and agricultural soils in Rhode Island are under threat,” land trust president Paul Roselli said. “We are extremely happy to save this property for agriculture in perpetuity.”

May 26, 2023

Free RIPTA Bus Service Returns in Newport for Summer

NEWPORT, R.I. — On Friday, free hop-on-hop-off bus service on Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s Route 67 returned for the summer.

The line travels to some of Newport’s top summer tourist locations, including the Newport Mansions and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Free hop-on-hop-off service will also return to RIPTA’s Route 68, which runs from the north end of Newport to some of its beaches, starting June 17.

The service started last year and is one of a few free routes that RIPTA is currently running; there are also free fare pilots on the R-Line and on trips that start in Central Falls.

Discover Newport and the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island fund the hop-on-hop-off service.

“I grew up riding RIPTA down to Newport and have remained an avid rider ever since,” said Newport Mayor Xaykham Khamsyvoravong in a RIPTA statement. “To improve traffic, mobility and equity in Newport we need to build public transit partnerships like the ones we are proud to continue with these routes.”

Both services will continue until Oct. 31.

May 25, 2023

R.I. Attorney General Sues Manufacturers of Toxic Forever Chemicals

PROVIDENCE — The attorney general’s office is alleging in a recently filed lawsuit that manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances knew their products were likely to cause significant harm to the people and resources of Rhode Island.

Commonly referred to as PFAS or forever chemicals, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said the defendants engaged in a massive and widespread campaign to knowingly deceive the public, moving assets to avoid paying for damages they caused, and continuing to manufacture, market, and sell these hazardous chemicals for decades while knowing the risks, and reaping enormous profits in the process.

In the lawsuit, filed in Providence County Superior Court, the attorney general alleges the defendants, including major chemical companies such as 3M and DuPont, have violated state environmental and consumer protection laws.

Among thousands of other industrial and consumer applications, PFAS were and, in some cases still are, commonly used in aqueous film-forming foam, a chemical foam used for firefighting and associated training and emergency response at locations such as military and industrial facilities, airports, fire stations, and training centers.

The pervasive use of PFAS in these products has caused and/or contributed to known contamination of the state’s groundwater, drinking water, surface water, air, soil, wetlands, and other natural resources, according to the lawsuit.

“We are still uncovering the consequences of exposure to these hazardous chemicals by Rhode Islanders, but the burden of this enormous cost should be borne by the companies who made, marketed, and sold these products at great profit, while hiding their true dangers,” Neronha said. “As alleged, these companies concealed from the public, regulators, and consumers the dangers posed by these chemicals and now their chemicals have infiltrated virtually everywhere from our waterways to our bloodstreams.”

It is alleged that PFAS chemicals have contaminated and will continue to contaminate many public water supplies in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Department of Health, working in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and researchers from Brown University, have detected significantly elevated concentrations of PFAS chemicals in numerous public water systems and many private wells near areas where these products were known to be used. As alleged in the complaint, there is likely contamination from numerous military installations, fire-fighting training sites, and industrial sites such as the Naval Station in Newport, Camp Fogarty, Quonset Point, and the Bradford Dyeing Association site in Westerly.

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified more than 12,000 PFAS compounds and has concluded that exposure to PFAS may lead to significant negative health effects, including: decreased fertility and increased high blood pressure in pregnant women; delays in children such as low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes; increased risk of certain cancers, including kidney and testicular cancers; reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response; interference with the body’s natural hormones; increased ulcerative colitis; increased thyroid disease; and increased medically diagnosed high cholesterol and/or risk of obesity.

The General Assembly has passed regulations related to drinking water standards, prohibiting food packaging containing PFAS, and monitoring of groundwater and discharge, including the PFAS in Drinking Water, Groundwater, and Surface Waters Act (H7233 and S2298), which was enacted last year.

Currently, state legislators are considering at least six bills that would prohibit or restrict usage of forever chemicals.

Last month North Kingstown filed a lawsuit in South Carolina District Court against 3M, DuPont, and related companies known for manufacturing PFAS that have contaminated at least one of the town’s drinking water supply wells.

May 25, 2023

Volunteers Sought to Clear Invasive Plant in R.I., Mass. Watersheds

Several environmental organizations are seeking volunteers to help remove invasive water chestnut (Trapa natans) from local ponds in the Blackstone and Ten Mile River watersheds in southeast Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Water chestnut, which can impede recreational activities and cause significant economic and environmental harm, has been identified in 19 locations throughout Rhode Island and at least 16 waterbodies in Massachusetts. The floating plant’s foliage grows quickly and forms dense mats of vegetation that can interfere with paddling, boating, swimming, fishing, and flood storage capacity. If uncontrolled, water chestnut out-competes native aquatic plants, jeopardizes biodiversity, alters fish and wildlife habitat, and disrupts the ecological balance of aquatic ecosystems. Water chestnut is difficult and costly to control once established, as it can produce large numbers of thorny seeds that can remain viable for several years.

Volunteers can participate in water chestnut removal on the following dates in these locations:
June 10, Blackstone River (Central Falls, R.I.), 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
June 13, 14, Turner Reservoir (East Providence, R.I.), 5-8 p.m.
June 17, Lake Quinsigamond (Shrewsbury, Mass.), 9 a.m.-noon
June 17, Turner Reservoir (East Providence, R.I.), 9 a.m.-noon
June 20, Blackstone River (Central Falls, R.I. ), 4-8 p.m.
June 24, Whitin Pond (Uxbridge, Mass.), 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
June 27, 28, Turner Reservoir (East Providence, R.I.), 5-8 p.m.
July 8, Lake Quinsigamond (Shrewsbury, Mass.), 8-11 a.m.

Volunteers are needed at each event to lift and carry buckets of plants on shore or to hand-pull the weed from the water by paddling kayaks and canoes. Participants are encouraged to bring their own watercraft; however, complimentary canoes and/or kayaks will be provided at most locations for a limited number of registered participants. Motorboat owners can contribute to the effort by ferrying the muddy plants to and from open water to shore where boat ramps are available. Local landowners with compost areas can also assist, by offering space for the removed water chestnut to decay, as it is safe to compost and will no longer continue to spread when out of the water.

To join any of these opportunities, volunteers need to complete the registration form here.

Additionally, the initiative is offering an informational webinar for registered participants to learn more about how to identify water chestnut and the importance of managing this aquatic invasive species, on June 6 from 3-4 p.m.

The project is funded by a grant.

May 24, 2023

Survey Seeks Input on Access to, Uses of Ocean State’s Shoreline

WAKEFIELD, R.I. — The state’s coastal regulators and scientists are asking residents who live, work, and play near Rhode Island’s 400-plus miles of coastline how they use the shoreline and what barriers there are to accessing it.

The Coastal Resources Management Council, together with Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Reserve recently launched a survey to assess the shoreline access needs across the state. The survey is also available in Spanish.

The survey is part of a needs assessment funded by a $206,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded to CRMC last October to improve equitable shoreline access in Rhode Island and cultivate relationships with local organizations to identify more rights-of-way (ROWs).

The agency and its partners, which also include the environmental science nonprofit Impact by Design, are expected to gather additional information and feedback on shoreline access from a variety of residents and visitors.

Following the needs assessment, which is expected to take between 12 and 18 months, CRMC will embark on a stakeholder engagement process that is expected to result in a five-year management plan for shoreline access, a Public Shoreline AMP, similar to the existing Special Area Management Plans used by the agency to manage local waterbodies.

Despite being labeled as the Ocean State, and with a state constitutional guarantee to coastal  access, not all communities have equal ROWs to the shore. Whiter and wealthier towns, such as Bristol or Narragansett, have 30 and 13 ROWs, respectively. Meanwhile, Providence and Cranston, cities in the state’s urban core, have three ROWs each.

CRMC is empowered to designate state ROWs, but the agency is keen to stress it does not create new ROWs, it merely identifies already existing ones within a specific municipality. A CRMC designation allows the state to sue to protect any state-designated ROW that is otherwise obstructed or destroyed.

Municipalities can designate ROWs, but not all have equal chances to designate them. Many of the towns along the south shore do not have Providence’s industrial history and current reality along the Port of Providence, a highly developed, highly polluted area where there are few opportunities for shoreline access.

May 22, 2023

Trustom Pond Refuge Closed During Trail Rehabilitation Project

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is planning to rehabilitate the recreational trails and entrance ramp at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge from June 5-16 and again from Aug. 7-18. Otter Point Trail will be improved to increase accessibility for all visitors, some observation platforms will be renovated or replaced, the trail entrance near the contact station will be renovated, and the lower farm platform will be removed for safety concerns.

During the first phase of construction, the contact station and all refuge trails will be temporarily closed and unavailable to the public for safety reasons and to allow space for construction vehicles. During phase two of the project, the Otter Point Trail will be temporarily closed to the public during the rehabilitation project, however, Osprey Point Trail will remain open.

The refuge trails have become worn overtime leading to puddles and a surface that is not easily accessible for everyone, according to Janis Nepshinsky, the Fish & Wildlife Service’s visitor services manager.

“Without this project, the trails will continue to deteriorate and detract from the visitors’ experience,” she said.

For questions, email [email protected].

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