WESTERLY – The quality of the sand to be put on town beaches, the scope of the project, and the likelihood of completing the work in a tight timeframe were all raised as concerns during a recent review by the Town Council of the Winnapaug Pond dredging project, which is set to occur this winter.
As currently planned, the project calls for dredging 20,000 cubic yards of sediment from a section of the pond and depositing the material at the Town and Wuskeneau beaches. John Ornberg, a lifelong resident, said his reading of data on samples of sediment taken from the pond shows a high percentage of fines, or tiny particles, which he said are not appropriate for use on beaches and exceed regulations established by the state Department of Environmental Management. Those regulations prohibit the use of material that contains more than 10 percent silt or clay.
Use of some of the material in the pond will sully the beaches and lead to a repeat of what Ornberg said happened when the beaches were replenished following Superstorm Sandy, which struck in 2012.
“When you saw people walking on the beach there was a cloud of dust two feet high that would follow them until the wind swept it away,” Ornberg said.
Rather than use the material on beaches, Ornberg said the town could use it for upland activities such as a base for athletic fields. He stressed the overall need for the dredging. “I agree that this dredging project desperately needs to be done, it should have been done years ago,” Ornberg said.
Lisa Pellegrini, director of development services, is overseeing preparations for the project and said she would look into Ornberg’s concerns. The originally intended dredge area was moved because of the abundance of silt in the original location, she said. According to Pellegrini, the town had considered using the dredged material for both beach replenishment and salt marsh restoration but was steered away from the marsh restoration by the state Coastal Resources Management Council. Pellegrini also said that obtaining permits for the salt marsh work would likely take too long. The state’s dredge window is from Oct. 15 to Jan. 31.
Councilor Jack Carson asked why preparation for the project had not occurred earlier.
“Here we are in Thanksgiving week and we are hearing about it now and we have a tight work schedule. Something is amiss, this project should have started in late September or early October,” Carson said.
Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy reminded the councilors that he discussed the project with them in September and that they approved a new contract with an engineering firm working on the project at that time. Kennedy said the project was slowed by the town receiving verbal approval of a federal grant in June but not receiving written notification until September.
The bulk of the project will be paid for with funds from a $2.78 million grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and up to $475,000 in town funds. The original project scope called for removal of 32,500 cubic yards of sediment but Pellegrini said it was downsized because CRMC redirected $256,250 that it had once allotted for the project.
The federal funds were made available following Superstorm Sandy. A parameter of the grant requires removal of sand deposited in the pond as a result of the storm and efforts to return the area to its pre-storm characteristics.
Councilor Mario Celico questioned why the dredge area was moved.
“To me it either needs to be dredged or it doesn’t,” he said.
The current project should be viewed, Pellegrini said, as the first phase of dredging in the pond. She said the town is aware of other areas in the pond that should also be dredged to remove high volumes of silt.
Pellegrini said she was confident the dredging work could be completed by Jan. 31 and that the beach restoration would be completed in time for the new beach season.