Legislative Support Requested for Dredging Charlestown Breachway

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the State of Rhode Island, conducted the first phase of The South Shore Restoration Project in 2004-2005 for $3.4 million. The Charlestown Breachway was dredged, a settlement basin was added to catch ocean sand sweeping into the pond on storm tides, and tens of thousands of cubic yards of beach sand that had smothered over fifteen acres of high-value habitat was removed from the pond and restored to Charlestown Beach.

As a condition for federal funding, the state contractually agreed to maintain the settlement basin in order to protect Ninigret Pond and the completed restoration project. Since that time the state has failed to maintain the settlement basin, which is now full and is allowing sand to again bury healthy habitat. Failure of the state to maintain the settlement basin now threatens the restoration project.

What does this mean? Charlestown Breachway is the key to maintaining good water quality in Ninigret Pond. Clean water and healthy marine habitats are what support seasonal home values, which in turn produce 65% of Charlestown tax revenues. Good water quality supports sustainable fisheries and aquaculture as well as recreation and tourism, which, again, is the major source of revenue and employment in South County. Ningret Pond and the Charlestown Breachway are enjoyed by thousands of state residents and cash-bearing out-of-state visitors every year. Many of the coastal fish so important to the state economy grow in the pond before heading out to sea.

Maintaining the Charlestown Breachway is the state’s responsibility and falls under the authority of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). CRMC has faithfully submitted funding for breachway maintenance in their budget requests, however the money has been cut from the final budget year after year. The state’s violation of their maintenance agreement threatens every other Corps of Engineer project planned for this state. Not only are Phase 2 and 3 of the South Shore Restoration in jeopardy, but also major navigation channel maintenance.

In an effort to bring this issue to light the Town of Charlestown and The Salt Ponds Coalition, along with the support of CRMC, URI, and DEM, have been working together to seek funding to maintain the Charlestown Breachway settlement basin. We have the favorable support of local legislators. More legislative support is needed to restore the $1million request to the CRMC budget and to fulfill the state’s obligation. As a sign of good faith the Town of Charlestown has allocated $150,000 for maintenance and is anticipated to add another $150,000 in the 2011 – 2012 budget to help make this project happen.

This offer from Charlestown is only available for a limited time – town taxpayers cannot let scarce funds sit in reserve waiting for the state to act. These funds will help defray the cost to the state by almost one third, but the state has to act. The restoration work is being undone with each passing storm, the terms of the state/federal contract are in violation, and the local funds, if not used, will before long be diverted to other pressing business.

Please help gather support within the General Assembly and the Governor’s office to restore this important funding. Together we can keep a clean, healthy and beautiful salt pond for all Rhode Islanders to visit and enjoy for generations to come. Please contact your state legislators and ask them to support maintenance dredge funding for Charlestown Breachway.

Thomas B. Gentz Arthur R. Ganz

President President

Charlestown Town Council Salt Ponds Coalition