WESTERLY — Town officials continue to prepare for a large-scale dredge of Winnapaug Pond and hope that a federal grant and local match that would pay for the work will materialize.
On Monday the Town Council authorized Town Manager J. Mark Rooney to sign access and easement agreements with two private property owners as well as with the state Department of Environmental Management. The agreements will allow for staging, assembly and operation of dredging equipment, and to complete a dredging permit application in order to qualify for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Lisa Pellegrini, director of the municipal Department of Development Services, told the Town Council in a memo that the federal conservation service had recommended submitting a permit application before June 11.
Rooney was given authority to sign the agreements in the form of a resolution from the Town Council. DEM requires a resolution to place the requested agreement on the agenda of a State Properties Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday. If the committee signs off on the agreements, the town can then file a dredging application with the state Coastal Resources Management Council by June 11, Pellegrini said.
An approximately $2.1 million dredging grant from the USDA conservation service expired in April. The town is seeking a second extension of the grant, which first expired late last year.
Rooney has said the town will be required to contribute about $650,000 toward the cost of the project to meet a local match requirement of the grant. During deliberations on the 2019-20 budget, Rooney asked the council to consider reallocating funds that the council budgeted for road and sidewalk work. He said that significant road work would be accomplished with a portion of the $15 million road bond approved by voters in November. Some councilors did not support the idea and reiterated their positions on Monday.
"I didn't think we had agreed to the dredging because I thought Town Manager Rooney told us it was not budgeted ... so why is this before us?" Councilor Sharon Ahern asked.
Rooney assured Ahern and her colleagues on the council that he was only seeking authority to sign the agreements to move forward with the permits and to pursue the grant. If the grant is extended and the permits approved, Rooney said, he would return to the council seeking the matching funds.
Town officials have also said they planned to speak with the state Sen Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, and state Rep. Sam Azzinaro, D-Westerly, to enlist their assistance in determining whether state funds might be available to help with the cost of the local match.
The council voted 6-1 to give Rooney the authority to sign the agreements. Councilors Christopher Duhamel, Suzanne Giorno, William Aiello, Caswell Cooker Jr., Brian McCuin and Ahern voted in favor. Councilor Karen Cioffi was opposed.
The town staff is also seeking a grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a dredge project.
A small section of the pond was dredged in the winter of 2017. Town officials had wanted to do more but the permitting process tied to salt marsh and eelgrass restoration was too involved to get the project ready in time.
The proposed project would remove 68,000 cubic yards of material believed to have been pushed into the pond by Superstorm Sandy, which struck in 2012. Dredging can only take place from Oct. 1 to Jan. 31, according state environmental regulations. Some of the dredged material would be used to restore part of the ponds' marsh.