CHARLESTOWN — Equipment is in place at Quonochontaug Pond to begin construction of a new boat launch at the breachway. The work, which is expected to begin this week, is being managed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
One of the largest of the coastal salt ponds, at 700 acres, Quonnie Pond is a popular destination for tourists and locals and is heavily used, particularly in the summer.
The existing boat launch, installed in 1971, is oriented toward the breachway where currents are often strong. DEM spokesman Michael Healey said the new ramp will have a north-south orientation that will bring boats into the pond where the water is calmer.
“The benefit there is actually twofold,” he said. “We’re bringing it into the pond to get it out of the strong currents of the channel to maker it easier for the boaters, but also, it’s going to extend the life of that ramp because that current erodes the existing ramp and you can see the result of that.”
The new, 24-foot wide ramp will be made of concrete and will include a six-foot floating dock with cleats and rub rails that boaters will be able to tie up to when launching or hauling out their boats.The existing ramp will be removed and replaced with large, flat rocks to provide an additional fishing area.
The dock will also be wheelchair-accessible.
“We want all of our facilities to be universally accessible. It is a priority,” Healey said.
The project is expected to cost $475,000. Most of the funding will come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program, which derives its revenue from taxes on motorboat fuel, fishing equipment, and the purchase of some boats. A portion of the national funding is dedicated to DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, specifically for boating access.
“When people buy gas for their boat, when they buy tackle and bait and the purchase of some boats, a part of those taxes goes into U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Sport Fish Restoration Program,” Healey said. “It’s real value to people. When you can say to people ‘look, the money that you are spending on this hobby of yours is going right back into a facility that will let you keep enjoying your hobby’ that resonates with people.”
Healey said the ramp would be built right away, but regulatory agencies, the Coastal Resources Management Council and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, required that the dock construction be delayed until the fall.
“The dock part of the job, we won’t be able to do that until the fall,” Healey said. “The reason is, we are working closely with our regulators on this job, CRMC and the Army Corps of Engineers and both CRMC and the Army Corps are trying to balance the ecological sensitivity of Quonnie with our need to do this job.”
The boat launch was designed by the engineering firm, Fuss and O’Neill, in partnership with DEM and The Nature Conservancy. The upgrade follows the dredging of the breachway in 2018 and 2019. The dredged sediment was used to elevate and restore the salt marsh.
Charlestown Town Council President Virginia Lee said the new launch would improve and expand access to one of the area’s greatest natural resources.
“It will improve public access to the water, it will do it in a safer way than the previous boat ramp was, in terms of the new orientation, and of course, fixing the crumbling structure,” she said.
The new ramp will be completed in a few weeks.