The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has awarded funding for seven habitat restoration projects in the 18th year of its RI Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund (CEHRF).
The council approved the funding at a semi-monthly meeting earlier [in March]. Projects included numerous fish passage and connectivity improvements in the Pawcatuck River, Ten Mile River, and Mattatuxet River. Projects also had a resiliency focus this year, including a dune habitat restoration project, a salt marsh adaptation project, and restoring coastal habitats and increasing stewardship at Common Fence Point. Another project seeks to improve in-water and bank habitat on the Woonasquatucket River. As with the previous years, in its request for proposals the CRMC put special emphasis on projects that would enhance the resiliency of Rhode Island’s coastal habitats to climate change and sea level rise.
The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island and its project partners were awarded $74,500 from the Trust Fund for the design of fish passage improvements in the Pawcatuck River at the Potter Hill Dam in Westerly. The project aims to improve diadromous fish access to more than 3,000 acres of spawning and rearing habitat (83 miles of stream), and will improve passage for the fish runs in the watershed going in both directions. The Potter Hill Dam is currently in disrepair, the fish ladder performs poorly, and with the increase in intensity and frequency of storms, there is a high risk of dam failure that would cause destruction to property and infrastructure in Westerly. This work will complement previous improvements to stream connectivity on the Pawcatuck River, including the recent removal of the White Rock Dam downstream of Potter Hill and Bradford Dam, and work on three dams (Lower and Upper Shannock and Kenyon dams). Potter Hill Dam is the last large barrier to improving fish passage on the main stem of the river. Removing the dam will also reduce downstream flooding from dam failure.
The Trust Fund has awarded $58,000 to the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council and its partners for its next phase of improvements below Manton Dam in Johnston. The group seeks to improve habitat through in-stream and bank stabilization – bank stabilization will include native plantings and revegetation that will provide improved habitat for small mammals, birds and pollinators in addition to protecting the fishway. Habitat around the fishway will be improved through plantings, and an outdoor classroom at the fishway will be created. The project will stabilize the bank, protect the fish passage, improve bank wildlife habitat, and prevent slumping of the Woonasquatucket River Greenway into the river. The WRWC has completed a number of fish passage accomplishments to-date, including numerous efforts funded by the Trust Fund.
Save The Bay received $37,291 in funding for in-river barrier removals in the Mattatuxet River at Shady Lea in North Kingstown. In 2018 with Trust Fund monies, Save The Bay and its project partners removed the spillway at Shady Lea Mill and restored the Mattatuxet River, about 1.5 miles above the fish ladder at the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace on Carrs Pond. The project removed most of the spillway but not the earthen embankment or abutments in order to preserve historic elements of the raceway power house. The design included small stone weir and pool structures below the dam to assure fish passage during low flow. Soon after, an obstruction in the river, approximately 575 feet upstream of the dam was identified. The obstruction appeared at first to be a low stone wall, but a larger stone structure has been revealed, previously underwater and buried in sediment prior to restoration. The structure is a complete barrier to fish passage, and the river currently flows down into the sediment and through the stones in this location. The funds are for design and permitting of removal of the obstruction and modifications to the in-river weirs to achieve anadromous fish passage to the Silver Spring Lake dam.
A total of $29,142 was awarded to Save The Bay and its project partners (including CRMC) for salt marsh adaptation and restoration monitoring at Ninigret and Quonochontaug sediment placement projects. The salt marshes at both locations have been impacted by accelerated sea level rise, and prior to restoration showed signs of significant degradation, including areas of standing (impounded) water, die off areas, and an eroding peat layer. The CRMC coordinated two elevation enhancement projects at Ninigret marsh in 2017 and Quonochontaug marsh in 2019, which included placement of sediment via dredging to raise the marsh surface elevations and increase marsh resiliency to sea level rise.
Save The Bay, in partnership with CRMC, has conducted adaptive management at these two marshes including restoring tidal hydrology through grading the placed sediment, excavating creeks and runnels, excavation, planting salt marsh grasses, and managing invasive plants. Ongoing adaptive management of the Ninigret and Quonochontaug sediment placement projects is a key and necessary step in the restoration process to ensure that the functions and values of these marshes are restored.
The Trust Fund awarded $16,037 to Common Fence Point Improvement Association for restoring coastal habitats and increasing stewardship of Common Fence Point in Portsmouth. The project seeks to restore and improve three coastal habitats in the Common Fence Point neighborhood in need of restoration: a saltwater cove and salt marsh impacted by deposited dredge material, restored in the early 1990s and since impacted by longshore sediment impeding tidal flow; a coastal buffer negatively impacted by human traffic, upland stormwater flow, invasive species and previous partial mowing; and a salt marsh migration corridor that abuts a ball field that is regularly mowed. In addition to restoring habitat (and other) functions and values, these projects will directly engage residents in the restoration activities and development of habitat management plans as well as provide opportunities to be trained/certified in invasive plant management and in leading volunteer groups.
The Trust Fund awarded $5,480 to the Norman Bird Sanctuary for the restoration of dune habitat at Third Beach in Middletown. In 2003, Norman Bird Sanctuary purchased and permanently protected from development a 23-acre parcel between Third Beach Road and the Sakonnet River. This dune restoration is part of previous efforts from the group to improve the ecosystem by removing structures and the planting of native vegetation (the Trust Fund previously awarded monies in 2007 for the creation of a sand berm and planting of native vegetation).
The Ten Mile River Watershed Council, in cooperation with the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) received $5,000 in monies for a dam removal/fish passage assessment study for the Ten Mile River Reservation dam in Rumford. The council is investigating feasibility of removing the dam and restoring the free flowing river channel. The state-owned dam was considered a significant hazard when last assessed by DEM in 2012. The 10-foot high and 175-foot long dam obstructs anadromous fish passage to upstream spawning habitat in the Ten Mile River and Seven Mile River. The dam creates a shallow impoundment which suffers from algal blooms during the summer months and is impaired by non-native aquatic plants. In addition to the fully-funded projects, the Council also approved partial funding for coastal upland edge restoration in Blackstone Park Conservation District in Providence.
Habitat restoration projects funded through the RI Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund are recommended by the fund’s Technical Advisory Committee and approved by the RI Coastal Resources Management Council. Program funds come from the state’s Oil Spill Prevention Administration and Response Act (OSPAR), established by the legislature following the 1996 North Cape oil spill. Each year, the CEHRTF advisory committee, with approval of the CRMC allocates $225,000 from the OSPAR account to habitat restoration projects throughout the state.
“The Rhode Island Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund has been amazingly successful in its 18 years, and is a driving force for important habitat restoration and adaptation projects in Rhode Island,” said CRMC Chair Jennifer Cervenka. “From the extensive fish passage improvement projects to the adaptive management efforts funded through the Trust Fund, Rhode Island’s coastal and estuarine habitat has been greatly improved thanks to these OSPAR funds.”
To date and including this year, the Trust Fund has awarded $3.9 million for 143 projects, which have leveraged more than $30 million in matching funds. In its 18 years, the Trust Fund has helped to restore over 300 acres of coastal and estuarine habitat. The full report is on the CRMC web site at http://www.crmc.ri.gov/habitatrestoration.html.