Exploring the health and use of the GSP

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 9:15am
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Future uses and maintaining the health of the Great Salt Pond were the two primary topics of discussion at the most recent annual meeting of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond.

Board member Bob Greenlee informed the gathering that water quality continued to be monitored, with testing being done at five spots in the pond, one spot outside the pond, and at five tributaries that feed into it.

“We’re looking for trends in quality,” said Greenlee, meaning the results over the next few years will be evaluated as opposed to simply looking at the current results. The meeting was held on Sunday, Sept. 9 at The Narragansett Inn.

“It’s critical,” said CGSP President Sven Risom, of the testing in the tributaries that feed the pond. “If there are problems in the tributaries, there will be problems in the pond.”

The keynote speaker of the event was Town Manager Ed Roberge, who said that developing a plan for the pond must be a balance of both reactiveness and responsiveness. He mentioned that the town also does water testing in the pond at nine different spots.

“You have a gem out here,” said Roberge. “The results are very, very good.”

When Roberge mentioned the newly-installed dinghy dock, which is located just across the street from The Narragansett Inn, where the meeting was taking place, there was applause. The privately-owned dinghy dock in the Boat Basin was partially closed last year, causing some angst among boaters. An offer by the Wronowski family to pay to install the dinghy dock next to Dead Eye Dick’s, which the family owns, in return for $1 a year for 20 years from the town, was approved and the dock quickly installed.

“Not only is it functional, it’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s built to last,” said Roberge. “It’s the first piece of town infrastructure that’s on the water.”

The town also introduced a trash pickup boat into the pond this year. “We moved a lot of trash off the water. It worked out fairly well,” said Roberge. When he was asked if the trash collected was also being separated for recycling, Roberge said that was phase two. “We haven’t separated it out off the trash boat yet, but I think that would be very effective.” He said that recycling is not required.

“Is that something we want to do — mandatory recycling,” Roberge said, while also saying that the business of recycling trash has changed in recent years. The most important question is whether there is a receiver for all the trash being gathered that qualifies to be recycled. But Roberge said that “recycling and composting” will be part of the town’s overall plan for the pond.

Roberge said “sustainability and responsiveness” will be key to the success of any plan, but the town was not quite in that position just yet.

“The town has let things go” — referencing the quality of its buildings and infrastructure — “and so we’re more in a reactive mode.”

Roberge said the major boat fire that occurred on the pond this summer was an example of where things may need improvement. Roberge said the fire was contained and the damaged boat was “removed in a timely fashion.”

But Risom said that “we need to make sure that Harbors, the town, the Fire Department are all intertwined for disaster preparedness. At some point, there is going to be a major oil spill and you have to be prepared. From a Committee point of view, that’s a big topic.”

“Procedures need to be developed and followed,” said Chris Warfel, who also operates an oyster farm in the pond. He said the boat fire “was not a pleasant experience for some of us. There needs to be improvement in that area.”

Roberge said that the town’s Harbor Management Plan dates back to 1999 “and is a very thin book. It doesn’t relate to how we do things today.” As an example, Roberge said that expanding the pond for more aquaculture use is part of the overall plan, “but there is no mention of that in the 1999 plan. Aquaculture will be a pretty large component” of an updated plan, he said.

More long-term discussions about uses in and around the pond included the idea of a maritime center or a community center, which Roberge said would be part of a “much larger conversation.” He also pointed out that the lands surrounding the pond, such as Beane Point and Cormorant Cove, have restricted uses, and any changes would have to be coordinated on the state level.

“We need to find a way to balance these uses,” said Roberge.

In terms of long-term uses, Risom said the Committee for the Great Salt Pond would take “a very, very active role in the re-use” of the Coast Guard Station. “We have started a lot of dialogues. [Famed explorer] Bob Ballard has met with us to do something educational there, something that can help the school, help the island.”