Johnston marks completion of flood-prevention project

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WJAR) — Project planners said the Belfield Drive Floodplain Restoration Project in Johnston is complete.

A ribbon cutting was held Monday on the dead-end street near Interstate 295 with Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and members of the congressional delegation.

“This is truly something good, it really is, it’s a good thing for the town,” said Polisena. “The flooding nightmare that this area experienced for many years, including the historical flood from 2010 was horrific and I mean horrific. It also created a public safety disaster.”

For many years, residents along Belfield Drive in Johnston had been dealing with uncontrollable flooding when it rained hard. In 2010, a historic flood hit the area and the low point of the road was under water.

In 2018, other flooding issues came to light as more rain began to fall, it was at that point project leaders said the ball began to roll to fix the issue.

“It was frustrating, but it was something that happened, something that couldn’t be solved right away,” said George Melidozzian, a resident. “All us neighbors worked together. We gave each other rides. It took a long time, but we all worked together. If you don’t work together, you ain’t going to get nothing done. There’s other people a lot worse off than we were. We all worked together, and we stuck it out.”

Polisena, the Department of Environmental Management, the Northern Rhode Island Conservation, the Johnston Department of Public Works, the USDANRCS, and representatives from Sen. Jack Reed and Congressman Jim Langevin’s offices gathered for the ceremony.

“The people who lived here were constantly literally underwater and we were able to work together federal state locals to fix this problem,” said Reed.

“The word inconvenience doesn’t even adequately capture the frustration of the residents in the town of Johnston in this area that had to put up with this flooding,” said Langevin. “It’s going to enhance the quality of life and it’s better for the environment as well.”

The roughly $1.3 million project was paid for by federal funding provided by the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which addressed serious and long-lasting damages to infrastructure and the land resulting from natural disasters.

“The other concern I had was the federal funding. We know things in Washington take time. However, Senator Reed, Whitehouse and Langevin moved that finding pretty darn quick,” said Polisena.

Polisena said the town of Johnston didn’t fork up many tax dollars.

“We paid for the road to resurface, we got one of our roads done and we also paid for the jersey barriers and the guardrail,” said Polisena. “For the small amount of money, the town invested for the road for the safety of the guard rails and Jersey barriers; it was a very small price to pay.”

The home at the root of where the flooding occurred over the Pocasset River was purchased from its owner and knocked down for the project.

Restoration work that was designed and constructed by the engineering firm Fuss & O’Neil included both structural and non-structural measures to bring back floodplain functions.

A box culvert was installed to allow storm water to flow under the road and back into the Pocasset River.

“There’s an existing culvert under the road and during normal flows that culvert continues to work,” said Dean Audet, the senior vice president of Fuss & O’Neill.

“What we’ve done is raised the road and then now when it jumps the bank of the stream the water will get stored in the low area you see behind you. That’s the nature-based approach. This is a built wetlands system. Right now, it’s dry because it’s August but there’s wetland plants in there it’s meant to replicate wetlands.”

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