January 9, 2015 06:00PM
By LESLIE ROVETTI
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — It’s been a long time coming, but Winnapaug Pond in Misquamicut is going to be dredged.
“This issue’s been around since the early 1990s,” said state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly. “It’s taken quite a long time to get to this.”
At a windswept press conference near the Misquamicut Business Association’s tourist booth on Atlantic Avenue, a gaggle of federal, state and local officials announced that nearly $1 million has been allocated for the project. Most it, $700,000, is from the federal government, with a roughly $280,000 matching grant from the state. A small amount was also contributed by the Town of Westerly.
Many of the officials credited Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., for obtaining the funds, including Algiere, who said Reed recognized the importance of the pond’s fragile ecosystem.
Although officials have long sought to dredge the pond, Superstorm Sandy increased the urgency of the situation, said R. Phou “Pooh” Vongkhamdy, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The storm washed beach sand and debris across Atlantic Avenue into the pond, and “now we need to dredge it and renew it,” Vongkhamdy said.
According to Grover Fugate, executive director of the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council, the ecology of the pond was altered in the 1950s, when the breachways were built. Since then, the pond has acted as a sediment depository, he said. So it’s logical, he noted, to remove the roughly 70,000 cubic yards of sediment to help re-establish the vitality of the pond. In particular, he said he hoped the project would restore the eel grass habitat. Removing sediment will also leave more room for water, and help alleviate flooding, added state Rep. Sam Azzinaro, D-Westerly.
The work will be managed by the Coastal Resources Management Council and performed by private contractors, Fugate said.
Dredging can only be done between Oct. 15 and Jan. 31, said CRMC engineer Dan Goulet, so as not to endanger the spawning of winter flounder.
If all of the permitting and engineering work can be completed before Oct. 15, the dredging will begin this year, Goulet said. But most likely, it will begin on Oct. 15, 2015.
The sand that’s removed from the pond will be sifted and left in piles in the state beach parking lot, said Goulet. During the spring following the dredging, the sand will be used to nourish the town beaches.
The pond dredging is following on the heels of an ongoing federal sand-replenishment project at Misquamicut State Beach, returning the beach to what it looked like in the 1960s. Both projects, Reed said, address environmental issues. But, he added, “The real bottom line here is the economic engine of the beach.”