WESTERLY — A proposed large-scale dredge of Winnapaug Pond will remain where it has been for the last 25 years — on the drawing board.
The most recent planning started in 2012, after Superstorm Sandy pushed sand from the town's beaches into the pond, according to town officials at the time. U.S. Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I., came to Misquamicut two years later and celebrated the allocation of federal funds to dredge Winnapaug as well as Ninigret and Quonochontaug ponds. At the time of one of Reed's visits, state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said talk of dredging Winnapaug Pond dated back to the early '90s.
Fast forward about seven years from the time of Reed's celebratory press conference to the Sept. 16 meeting of the Town Council this year, when Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said that the state Coastal Management Resources Council had recommended letting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers take the lead on dredging.
The recommendation means that the town's work for years on a federal Natural Resources Conservation Service grant — which eventually grew to $2 million — would end with just a small section of the pond dredged early last year. At that time 8,000 cubic yards of sand was removed and spread onto the Town Beach while the remaining 24,500 cubic yards of material specified in the plan remained untouched. The project was scaled down because of a struggle to obtain permits.
Lisa Pellegrini, the town's director of Development Services, who inherited the project when she started her job in May 2017, worked to secure the permits and filed a dredging application with CRMC, the state Department of Environmental Management, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by June 11 of this year. But the project hit another snag.
"While it was being reviewed by Army Corps it became evident that we would not be able to obtain a dredging permit from CRMC as they would only permit a restoration project (eelgrass or salt marsh restoration). The NRCS grant would not cover a restoration project. The NRCS grant was an Emergency Watershed Protection funding opportunity associated with removal of the sediment deposited from Superstorm Sandy," Pellegrini said in an email on Wednesday.
Town officials are hoping that a new collaboration between the Corps of Engineers and CRMC will bear fruit. According to Pellegrini, town officials learned in July that the two agencies had signed an agreement to work together on an eelgrass restoration project in the pond. Eelgrass restoration typically involves dredging. Details on the size of the project were not available on Thursday, and CRMC and the Army Corps could not be reached for comment. Eelgrass is important to the life cycles of several types of fish and can remove harmful nutrients from water.
The town will be required to make a financial match for the Army Corps project but the amount of the match and cost of the project were not clear, Pellegrini said. She said town officials are hopeful that the dredging could occur during the October 2020 to January 2021 dredge window. The state limits when the work can be done to protect habitats and wildlife.
Portions of Ninigret Pind in Charlestown were dredged in 2004, 2012 and 2017. A portion of Quonochontaug Pond, which stretches across parts of both Charlestown and Westerly, was dredged earlier this year.
"Ninigret and Quonochontaug were dredged as part of restoration projects led by CRMC over the last few years. It now looks as if Winnapaug Pond is now next in line," Pellegrini said.