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RI Coastal Resources Management Council

...to preserve, protect, develop, and restore coastal resources for all Rhode Islanders

CRMC: 2017 in review

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council’s 46th year was one marked with recognition for CRMC staff for their efforts, scientific discovery, beginnings of projects and others that came to fruition, and continued work on the eighth Special Area Management Plan, the R.I. Shoreline Change (Beach) SAMP.
Here are some highlights from our year.

Coastal Habitats

Volunteers plant native salt marsh grass plugs at Ninigret
Volunteers plant native salt marsh grass plugs at Ninigret

In 2017, the CRMC continued its leadership role in the preservation, restoration and monitoring of important coastal habitats. The CRMC and its project partner Save The Bay conducted native salt marsh grass plantings in two, multiple-day efforts in May and June at Ninigret salt marsh, the site of a large-scale salt marsh restoration project that was completed in January 2017. Learn more about the project here. The CRMC also worked on another volunteer planting effort at Narrow River, the site of another salt marsh restoration effort completed in late 2016 and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge.

A report from the URI Environmental Data Center (EDC) released in the summer showed eelgrass and other submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), protected by the CRMC, on the decline in most of the salt ponds and in Narragansett Bay. In 2016, the CRMC provided funding to the URI EDC and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to acquire aerial photographs of the southern coastal ponds, Narragansett Bay and Block Island, and assisted in “ground-truthing” the map results. The EDC used the resulting images to create SAV maps for the entire Rhode Island coast.

An underwater view of eelgrass beds in Ninigret Pond
An underwater view of eelgrass beds in Ninigret Pond

Having accurate maps of where SAV is growing in the state’s coastal waters is crucial to its protection. With previous mapping done in 2007, 2012 and now 2016, the EDC was able to examine trends to determine where and to what degree SAV beds are expanding or shrinking in size throughout Narragansett Bay and the coastal ponds. The data is vital to long-term study of this phenomenon, so that the CRMC can make management decisions and policy changes as needed, though it is still too early to determine a reason for the trends.

A view of the stone weirs being built on the dry riverbed in November 2017
A view of the stone weirs being built on the dry riverbed in November 2017

Awards were made from the CRMC’s Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund for habitat restoration projects throughout the state. This year marked the 14th year of the program, which has distributed $3.25 million in the form of 121 grants to state agencies, cities, towns, nonprofit and community organizations that has helped to restore more than 300 acres of coastal and estuarine habitat.

One of the awards from the Trust Fund in 2017 was $64,000 awarded to The Nature Conservancy toward its project to remove the dam at the Bradford mill in Westerly, the final piece in a list of projects spanning decades and millions of dollars to restore fish passage on the Pawcatuck River. In spring 2018 the entire length of the river will be open to the migration of native anadromous fish species for the first time since the 1880s. The CRMC via the Trust Fund provided matching funds over a span of eight years toward parts of this large, long-term project, including a federal stimulus award from NOAA in 2009 that provided $2.8 million for fish passage restoration projects at Lower Shannock Falls, Horseshoe dam and Kenyon Mill dam.

In Recognition

In early 2017, the CRMC, along with the University of Rhode Island and Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Regional Planning Bodies were honored with the Peter Benchley Ocean Award which recognizes marine leaders all over the world. The CRMC was lauded for its creation of the R.I. Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), along with the members of the SAMP team. The CRMC developed and adopted in 2010 groundbreaking marine spatial planning in the Ocean SAMP document, a federally recognized coastal management and regulatory tool. The 2017 winners of the Benchley award – the world’s preeminent ocean honor – and their efforts spanned a range of global conservation solutions including creating and vastly expanding marine protected areas, mitigation overfishing, reducing marine pollution, and addressing climate change.

CRMC’s Enforcement Supervisor Laura Miguel, left
CRMC’s Enforcement Supervisor Laura Miguel, left

Fugate and CRMC Aquaculture Coordinator David Beutel also traveled with other members of the Ocean SAMP team in 2017 to Nova Scotia to speak about their experiences with the SAMP development and implementation with stakeholders and officials who were exploring MSP and requested the team visit. The CRMC and team spent three days in the Bay of Fundy meeting with members of the fishing industry, aboriginal tribe members, researchers, government officials and other stakeholders.

The Environmental Business Council of New England also praised the CRMC for the permitting, development and operation of the Block Island Wind Farm in 2017. Deepwater Wind, LLC’s five-turbine wind farm off Block Island’s coast received the 2017 EBC Ira W. Leighton, Jr. Outstanding Environmental – Energy Technology Achievement Award. CRMC was also recognized as the permitting authority of the project, via its R.I. Ocean SAMP.

Laura Miguel, the CRMC’s enforcement supervisor, was honored with the R.I. Attorney General’s Justice Award in October 2017 in recognition of her commitment to environmental justice. Miguel, who has been with the CRMC since 1992, both as an environmental biologist and enforcement officer, was one of eight recipients of the annual award. In addition, Lisa Turner, CRMC’s office manager was the recipient of the Rhody Service Award in December. Turner has been with the CRMC since 1986, and is not only responsible for all aspects of day-to-day operations, but ensures that regulatory permit applications are processed with efficiency and created an office policy that requires immediate staff interaction with members of the public once they enter the office.

Program advancements

In 2017, the CRMC celebrated the designation of its fifth and largest clean marina under its statewide Clean Marina Program, a voluntary program designed to reward marinas that go above and beyond regulatory requirements by applying innovative pollution prevention best management practices to their operations. New England Boatworks in Portsmouth has been in operation since 1988 and includes a boat-building division that produces custom, state-of-the-art sail and power yachts at its 28.75-acre facility. NEB joins Allen Harbor Marina in North Kingstown, Point Judith Marina in Narragansett, Ram Point Marina in South Kingstown, and Conanicut Marina Services, Inc., in Jamestown.

The UCG signage at the ProvPort site in Providence
The UCG signage at the ProvPort site in Providence

The CRMC, along with non-profit corporation ProvPort, the City of Providence, and Save The Bay, opened more green space and public access along the waterfront with a new Urban Coastal Greenway (UCG) at the site of an old landfill located between ProvPort and Save The Bay headquarters. With the guidance of the CRMC, ProvPort transformed the landfill beginning in 2015, and then redeveloped the waterfront portion of the parcel as a UCG. Though not a continuous path, this UCG is an addition to the Johnson 7 wales University UCG, as well as the public access in front of Save The Bay. All three combined provide more than 3,000 feet of water walking paths at Fields Point. This UCG joins a number of other completed and in-progress projects throughout the CRMC’s Metro Bay Region Special Area Management Plan are. With greenways at American Locomotive Works in Providence along the Woonasquatucket River and Johnson & Wales University at Field’s Point in Providence, and with others under development at Village on the Waterfront and Kettle Point, both in East Providence, more than 2.5 miles (13,450 linear feet) of new public access will be available in these urban areas as projects are completed. For more information on these projects, go to http://www.crmc.ri.gov/news/2016_0705_ucg.html.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded nearly $1 million to the CRMC this year for salt marsh restoration and enhancement at Quonochontaug Pond in Charlestown and Westerly. The $982,103 the CRMC received comes from NOAA’s Coastal Resilience Grant program, which supports projects designed to help coastal communities prepare for extreme weather and climate-related hazards like sea level rise. It will be used to restore 30 acres of degraded salt marsh in Quonochontaug (nicknamed “Quonnie”) Pond as well as an adjacent area used for recreational fishing. Plans for the restoration include depositing dredged material on the marsh surface to fill man-made ditches and elevate it, and replanting the marsh with native species. This work builds on previous restoration planning efforts in the area, which were funded by a 2014 Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The CRMC and its project partners aim to improve the condition and resilience of the marshes within Quonochontaug Pond through the use of dredged material taken from shoaled areas within the manmade breachway to raise the salt marsh surface elevations. Material will be dredged and placed or sprayed on approximately 30 acres of marsh area, and graded to elevations best-suited for native salt marsh plant species. Some areas will then be planted with grasses grown from plants native to Rhode Island salt marshes.

Addressing climate change and sea level rise

A slide showing coastal risk statistics, from one of the Beach SAMP stakeholder meetings in 2017
A slide showing coastal risk statistics, from one of the Beach SAMP stakeholder meetings in 2017

Work continued on the Rhode Island Shoreline Change (Beach) Special Area Management Plan in 2017, including the release of three draft chapters of the SAMP document: Chapter 3: Assessing Coastal Hazard Risk; Chapter 4: Rhode Island’s Exposure to Coastal Hazards; and Chapter 5” RI CRMC Coastal Hazard Application Guidance. The SAMP team held two public stakeholder meetings in October to roll out these draft chapters and provide timelines for the completion of chapters 1, 2, 6, and 7. Members of the science community involved in the SAMP development also held a day-long coastal resilience science and engineering workshop in December to discuss current research and work being done concerning resilience. The workshop was endorsed by the Beach SAMP team and the CRMC. Topics focused on coastal resilience science (physical) and engineering and an additional workshop is being considered for 2018.

The SAMP team also secured additional funding to construct maps for more coastal municipalities using the Coastal Environmental Risk Index (CERI). CERI is a mapping tool and product of the SAMP that uses state-of-the-art modeling tools to predict storm surge and wave heights, combined with shoreline change (erosion) maps, and damage functions to show storm event risks to individual structures in coastal areas under different storm scenarios. In its initial iteration, maps were created for Charlestown and Warwick. Now, through two grant awards, maps will also be created for Barrington, Bristol, and Warren, and Narragansett, South Kingstown, and Westerly.

Outreach efforts

During 2017, CRMC Executive Director and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) visited a number of Rhode Island organizations and chambers of commerce to discuss the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the state’s business community and related industries. One of those talks was before the members of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Chapter of the Appraisal Institute. Senator Whitehouse, Fugate, Teresa Crean of the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center and RI Sea Grant, and Marc Guerin of Citizens Financial spoke to the chapter members on the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the real estate and appraisal industry, one that will feel those impacts acutely.

CRMC staff participated in the 2017 Rhode Island Science and Engineering Fair, something it has been doing for more than 15 years. Staff adjudicated the 201 projects created by 227 students from 36 schools in grades 6 through 12. The CRMC also awarded the top projects from each grade with gift cards and certificates. Projects this year included creating a wave turbine; ocean acidification; analyzing the importance of preserving coastal wetlands; ocean and water quality projects; effects of rainfall; and evaluations of fertilizer and microbeads.

CRMC Aquaculture Coordinator David Beutel joined members of the aquaculture industry, as well as other regulators and non-governmental organizations at a discussion of the State of Aquaculture in Rhode Island’s salt ponds, part of the RI Shellfish Initiative, of which CRMC is a key member. The public was invited to attend the educational program, and ask questions and share concerns.

The class and their instructors, along with CRMC’s Janet Freedman, at Barrington Beach
The class and their instructors, along with CRMC’s Janet Freedman, at Barrington Beach

In the summer, CRMC Coastal Geologist Janet Freedman met with students enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design’s summer camp program at Tillinghast Farm in Barrington. The class is preparing for life underwater, and Freedman gave them pointers on the realities of sea level rise in Rhode Island in 2050 and beyond, something their generation will likely live to see. Kids from all over the state, ages 6 through 12, walked along the beach collecting shells and wading through the water while Freedman talked to them about rising seas, the impacts on salt marshes like the one at RISD Beach, and potential innovations to adapt, for the program called, “Go with the Flow.” The RISD Continuing Education Department has several classes in the Young Artists Program, including this one, and there are classes held at the farm throughout the year - during winter, spring and summer vacations, as well as weekends.

Attendees (adults and school age children) identify native and invasive species sampled from the docks at Allen Harbor Marina
Attendees (adults and school age children) identify native and invasive species sampled from the docks at Allen Harbor Marina

In the fall, CRMC staff again took part in the annual Coastweeks celebration and events, a weeks-long series of educational events designed to involve the public in a celebration of the coast (and teach them things along the way). The CRMC and Rhode Island Sea Grant have been running this program for more than 15 years, and this year’s events run by CRMC staff included aquatic invasive species monitoring at Allen Harbor Marina with CRMC Marine Resource Specialist Kevin Cute; a boat ride and salt marsh restoration review and tour at Ninigret with CRMC Policy Analyst Caitlin Chaffee; and an Oakland Beach resilience walking tour with CRMC’s Freedman and Pam Rubinoff of URI CRC and RISG.

A two-day forum representing the first significant gathering of scientists, stakeholders and community members engaged in following developments related to the Block Island Wind Farm, took place in December and heavily featured CRMC and its Ocean SAMP, as well as lessons learned from the development and construction of the wind farm. The Southern New England Offshore Wind Energy Science Forum showcased completed and ongoing research taking place at the wind farm and within the region to improve the management and development of offshore wind energy. Research topics included the effects of the construction and operation of offshore wind farms on habitat, fish, marine mammals, avian species, and people. The CRMC sponsored the event.

 

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