Health of Great Salt Pond discussed

During Harbor Management Plan meeting
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 9:00am

A discussion about updating the town’s Harbor Management Plan turned into an impassioned dialogue about the general health of the Great Salt Pond, with members of the Harbors Committee voicing concerns. 

The dialogue occurred at a public review meeting, after Town Manager Ed Roberge said, “We’re the only one in the state with a Harbor Management Plan dating back to 1999, with a continued extension annually. This document requires review every two years, and we want to make sure we keep up with that.” 

Roberge has been meeting with the public and the Harbors Committee since May, as part of a 10-step process to update the document, which will conclude with the Town Council’s adoption of the final plan on Oct. 17.

The review process is reaching its final stages, with two more public meetings scheduled before the final draft is reviewed. The goal of the plan, as Roberge has said during the five-month-long process, is to have a current, updated and flexible plan for the Harbormaster to reference. Roberge is working with Town Planner Alison Ring on the draft, and using public comments received via email.

At a public review meeting on August 9, discussions were focused primarily on water type and use, as well as mooring management. Roberge discussed how the three water types on the Great Salt Pond could be reclassified to accommodate certain uses.

Roberge said that while the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council told him that the water types could be “reclassified,” they should remain unchanged, and not be altered for “current use. The current use, from a legal standpoint, is a historic precedent. That’s the CRMC’s opinion on that subject.”

“If we are looking at a water type modification, and change for purpose; and environmental condition; or a significant change in land use around it, then that would be a different argument that CRMC would evaluate,” added Roberge. “Otherwise, we would leave the water types they way they are, even if we have an anchoring or mooring use there.”

Roberge referenced a chart during the meeting, showing that the Great Salt Pond consists of five sections of waters: three are type one waters, one large central area is type two waters, and type three waters are where the Boat Basin and Champlin’s Marina are located.

Harbormaster Steve Land explained what water types are designated for: “type one waters are for conservation, and protected;” type two is low intensity water use, supporting recreational and residential uses; type three is intensely utilized for recreational purposes, such as for marinas; type four is multipurpose, used for commercial or industrial purposes; and five is used for commercial and recreational purposes.

Attendees asked Roberge about water types, and their use, which eventually led to a discussion about the health of the Great Salt Pond.

Oyster farmer Chris Warfel asked Roberge if the CRMC had had any discussion with him about “restoration” efforts on the pond. Warfel said, “some parts of the pond” need to be restored to bolster aquaculture habitats, and for the general health of the pond that could be included in a water classification dialogue.

“Yes, there has been conversation about restoration,” said Roberge, “although I think that’s independent of water classification.” Roberge noted that the restoration topic could be included under “the section dealing with Environmental Quality and Protection.” He invited Warfel to stop into his office to discuss the topic further.

Sven Risom, who is a Town Councilor and President of The Committee for the Great Salt Pond, said a different type of restoration is needed in Harbor Pond where “a huge amount of silting” is occurring, “filling up the pond. It’s “close to the sewer outflow by the grocery store — over by Ocean Avenue.” Silting, or siltation, is the pollution of water, or a pond, due to the influx of foreign materials, leading to sediment buildup on the bottom.

“Dredging, or cleaning of Harbor Pond could be a discussion,” said Risom, who noted that storm surge, and rain, lead to the pond filling up, and the silting.

“He raises a good point,” said Harbors Committee member Carl Kaufman. “We need to make a distinction between the restoration of something that would be reversing a natural process of nature, which is silting, and gradual filling in of the pond, and rehabilitation from a situation that we created.”

Harbors Committee member Erik Elwell floated the idea of conducting a full biological assessment of the pond. “We’re stuck with these water types — but one of my issues is that our entire anchorage field, except for a tiny bit, is in type one water. And anchorage basically rips up the bottom all day long, all summer long. There’s no chance of any vegetation growing.”

“We have the opportunity to rectify that, but we’re hampered by the water types, which really don’t make sense regarding use,” noted Elwell, who remarked that there are boats anchored in type one, conserved waters.

Kaufmann agreed with Elwell. “We really need a full biological assessment of the whole pond. We don’t know what’s down there. We don’t know if we’re tearing up the bottom over and over again.” Kaufman said, “It’s time” to get some data regarding the health of the pond.

Roberge said he “will present a goal to complete either a partial or full biological assessment of the Great Salt Pond to the Council for their consideration. The latest HMP document updates will be posted late next week for public review. Be sure to check for the latest plan documents on Friday, August 24.”

The next Harbor Management Plan meeting will be a final draft review held during the Town Council meeting on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.