ecoRI News in Brief


Compiled by ecoRI News staff

June 15, 2024

Bulkhead at Fort Wetherill Closed to Public Due to Safety Concerns

JAMESTOWN, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has closed the bulkhead behind DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries at Fort Wetherill State Park to public vehicular and pedestrian traffic until further notice.

The closure is being enacted to protect public safety at this popular fishing and viewing location of Narragansett Bay due to degraded supports to the bulkhead and potential sink holes caused by historic infrastructure and sustained damage from recent storm events.

“This closure to protect public safety is another example of challenges that Rhode Island’s coastal communities are increasingly contending with due to the impacts of climate change,” DEM director Terry Gray said.

Fort Wetherill State Park, situated upon 100-foot-high granite cliffs across the water from Fort Adams State Park, is a former coastal defense battery and training camp with many of the structures seen today dating to and before World War II. Comprised of 61.5 acres, the park was formally acquired by the state of Rhode Island from the United States in 1972.

Today the bulkhead serves as the berthing location for DEM research vessels. Parts of the closure area will remain open for authorized vehicles and personnel to continue DEM’s scientific research activities. Parking at other locations within the park will remain open to the public.

June 11, 2024

MassDEP Penalizes R.I. Trucking Co. for Failing to Report Diesel Spill

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has fined a Pawtucket, R.I.-based trucking company $13,125 for failing to report a November 2023 diesel spill during a fueling stop at a Chicopee service station.

On Nov. 15, 2023, the Chicopee Fire Department notified MassDEP of a diesel fuel release at the Pride Travel Center, on Burnett Road in Chicopee. State officials investigated the fuel release, oversee the cleanup, and determined that about 40 gallons was spilled.

The release occurred when a Pluverge LLC truck driver failed to attend the hose during fueling of the vehicle, according to MassDEP. Pluverge was identified as the responsible party through review of security video and other information related to the purchase of the fuel.

Although Pluverge’s driver was aware of the spill when he returned to the vehicle, he failed to notify the property owner, local response agencies, or MassDEP and failed to take any steps to mitigate the problem.

The penalty was issued after Pluverge was non-responsive to correspondence issued by MassDEP regarding the incident, according to state officials.

“It is critical that releases of diesel fuel are reported quickly to the local fire department and MassDEP to prevent public safety hazards and impact to the environment,” said Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield. “It is regrettable that Pluverge failed to fulfill its notification obligations and failed to respond to MassDEP about its cleanup responsibilities.”

June 9, 2024

Bottom Stairs at Mohegan Bluffs Closed to Public

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the town closed the bottom of the staircase at the Edward S. Payne overlook at Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island on Friday until further notice to protect public safety due to erosion causing a large drop at the base of the stairs to the beach below.

The overlook at the top of the bluffs, the parking lot, and the top of the stairs remain open. The bottom of the stairs is closed off to the beach because the path to the beach has been washed out.

“Rhode Island’s coastal communities are increasingly contending with sea level rise, flooding, and erosion due to the impacts of climate change,” DEM director Terry Gray said.

The Mohegan Bluffs are around 150 feet high and on the southeast coast of Block Island. The staircase has more than 140 steps that lead from the top of the bluffs to the base of the stairs.

June 6, 2024

New Report: Offshore Wind Could Save New England $630M Annually

Offshore wind is critical to achieving New England’s climate goals, reducing local energy costs, and protecting New Englanders from volatile gas prices, according to a new report authored by Synapse Energy Economics Inc.

If Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut achieve their shared goal of developing 9 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, the 15-page report noted residents will reap significant energy bill savings and climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced.

Titled “Charting the Wind,” the June 3 report seeks to quantify the benefit of offshore wind to ratepayers, the climate, and public health in New England. Currently, the region is trapped in a cycle of high and spiking electricity costs spurred by the overreliance on natural gas (methane) for power generation and extreme weather and geopolitical events that increase imported gas prices. By investing in offshore wind, New England can get off this gas rollercoaster and ensure energy savings, health, and climate benefits.

According to the report, 9 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 would: reduce New England electricity customers’ bills between $2.79 a month and $4.61 a month, depending on future gas prices; save New England an average of $630 million annually on electricity costs, with net savings in some years surpassing $1.3 billion under a mid-case natural gas price; retain $1.57 billion in New England that would have otherwise flowed out of the region to buy fossil fuels; and cut 42% of annual carbon dioxide emissions from the New England power sector.

June 5, 2024

Don’t Use Woonasquatucket River to Cool Off This Summer

Now that warm weather is upon us, the Environmental Protection Agency is reminding the public to use the Woonasquatucket River responsibly. Residents of Providence, North Providence, and Johnston should keep in mind that contamination in and along the river may pose a health risk.

The federal agency noted: don’t eat fish, turtles, eels, other wildlife or plants from the Woonasquatucket River; don’t wade in the shallow water or swim in the river; don’t dig into the riverbank; and obey the warning signs posted along the river.

While the EPA and its partners, including the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, have made progress in cleaning up dioxin-contaminated areas, parents, teachers, and camp counselors should remain vigilant to ensure that children are protected from dioxin and other contaminants remaining in the water, sediment, and nearby soils.

Walking, running, and bicycling along the river and paddling a canoe or kayak on the river are ways to safely enjoy it, according to the EPA. However, people should wash thoroughly after any contact with river water, sediment, or soil.

Federal officials noted a lot of work is happening with the Superfund site being in the remedial action phase of the cleanup. The responsible parties began implementation of the cleanup plan in 2019 under oversight of EPA and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

May 30, 2024

Generous Donation Protects 5 Acres of Wildlife Habitat

The South Kingstown Land Trust (SKLT) recently announced the protection by conservation easement of 5 acres of forest, wetlands, and coastal plain pond shoreline off Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry Highway in Matunuck. The parcel was preserved by the generous donation of landowners Elise Torello and Bill McCusker.

They retain ownership of the biodiverse property, where they have set up trail cameras that capture footage of local wildlife populations, including otters, bobcats, both red and gray foxes, and a variety of birds.

“It was very important to Bill and me to make sure that this rare and fragile habitat will remain natural forever,” Torello said. “I spend a lot of time documenting and enjoying the wide range of plant and animal life and the incredible beauty of this special place. We are thrilled to work with SKLT to protect it.”

May 29, 2024

Survey Says Saltwater Anglers Believe Their Fishing Spots Being Encroached Upon

The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) recently conducted a survey of 343 members regarding their awareness and opinions about perceived threats to recreational saltwater fishing. Shore access was the most important concern, with nearly half of anglers (47%) reporting they had personally been affected by lack of shore access — 88% believe this could be an issue for the entire angling community going forward.

Anglers also voiced significant concerns regarding the proliferation of fixed-gear aquaculture and offshore wind installations in traditional fishing areas. Just under 80% believe offshore wind farms should avoid areas of critical fish habitat and that policymakers should explore other ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions before industrialization of the near-shore ocean. Less than 30% believe climate change was such an imminent threat that they would be willing to give up some fishing grounds for cleaner energy.

“Our members have a high level of concern as to whether their interests are being given proper consideration,” RISAA first vice president Rich Hittinger said.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe traditional uses of the waterways such as recreational and commercial fishing and boating should take precedence over newer, more commercial uses

The survey was conducted in March, and the sample included a variety of anglers — shore, boat inshore, boat offshore, kayak, and charter and head boat anglers.

RISAA represents 7,500 recreational saltwater anglers in southern New England.

May 22, 2024

$20,000 Grants Help 8 Rhode Island Farms Save Energy

PROVIDENCE — The state of Rhode Island has awarded $160,000 in grants to support farmers as they decarbonize their agricultural operations. The grants, funded through the Rhode Island Agricultural Energy Grant Program, will support renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects at eight local farms.

Here is a look at the projects:

Simmons Farm Organics, Middletown ($20,000). The farm can trace its origins back to 1632. This more than 120-acre farm is one of the few remaining in Rhode Island still producing dairy. The farm will install a 23.8-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar PV array that will reduce energy expenses by about 90%.

Bishop Stables, Smithfield ($20,000). The riding academy and stabling center, plans to expand its solar portfolio with a 3.6-kilowatt add-on solar project. This new installation will build upon an existing PV system to offset additional energy loads produced by new stalls and associated heaters.

Novena Farms, Cumberland ($20,000). Reducing energy expenses by 78%, Novena Farms is installing an 11-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar array. This project will help in the transition from alpaca farming to horse stabling and boarding. It will also allow the owners to continue cultivating plants and flowers that are sold at their on-site farm stand.

Salisbury Farm Apiary, Foster ($20,000). The farm’s energy costs will be 100% offset by the installation of a 6.8-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar PV.

Small World Farm, Little Compton ($20,000). This local orchard is home to more than 700 apple trees. The farm will be offsetting 100% of its electric load with the installation of a 5.85-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar PV array.

Cluck and Trowel Farm, Little Compton ($20,000). The farm is installing a 19.13-kilowatt, ground-mounted solar array to 100% offset the energy usage required to produce, package, store, and sell pastured eggs, poultry, and seasonal produce.

Wicked Tiny Farms, Narragansett ($20,000). Cutting about 50% of the farm’s energy use, this local greenhouse is undergoing an energy-efficiency project that will install two heat pumps to heat and cool. This addition will extend the farm’s growing season while saving 720 gallons of propane and 10,647 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Captain Elisha Steere Farm, Greenville ($20,000). Dating back to 1810, Captain Elisha Steere Farm continues to expand its operations with a new greenhouse and duck house. These new buildings will be supported by the installation of a 10-kilowatt, ground-mounted solar PV array. This project will offset 100% of the energy costs generated by irrigation equipment, refrigeration, and food processing.

May 21, 2024

Dam Removal Gives Species Access to Important Spawning Habitat

BRIDGEWATER, Mass. – For more than 100 years, the High Street Dam stood on the Town River, a barrier to migratory fish coming up the Taunton River from Narragansett Bay, blocking fish passage to an important spawning habitat.

No longer.

The 12.5-foot-high, 80-foot-wide dam, which obstructed natural river flows and contributed to local flooding, was removed over several months from late 2023 into 2024 as part of a nearly $9 million project funded by, among others, the state, NOAA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the town of Bridgewater, and The Nature Conservancy. Just upstream, the undersized High Street Bridge, built in 1790 and thought to be one of the oldest bridges still standing in Massachusetts, was replaced with a new 55-foot, clear-span bridge that better accommodates peak river flows and prevents flooding of the town’s roadway and adjacent private property.

The High Street Bridge was constructed more than 200 years ago and did not meet modern Massachusetts design standards or stream crossing standards, according to a release from The Nature Conservancy. The culverts beneath the bridge were undersized and structurally compromised. Due to its proximity to the dam and effects on fish passage and public safety, it was included in the dam removal project.

The new bridge is designed to withstand a 500-year storm and climate change projections through 2070. The river restoration opens 10 miles of river to various migratory fish species including alewife, blueback herring, American eel, sea lamprey, and American shad. Alewife will also benefit from regaining access to 354 acres of spawning and rearing habitat in Lake Nippenicket.  

This is the latest in a series of barrier removals on tributaries to the 40-mile National Wild and Scenic Taunton River, the longest undammed coastal river in New England. On the nearby Mill River in Taunton, removal of the Whittenton Mill Pond, Hopewell Mills, and West Britannia dams and construction of a fishway at Lake Sabbatia reconnected 30 miles and 560 acres of spawning and rearing habitats with the larger Taunton River and Narragansett Bay system. Populations of migratory fish have increased substantially, according to TNC.

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