Joint project aims to improve Stillhouse Cove water quality

By Daniel Kittredge | Johnston Sunrise

Stillhouse Cove has seen a remarkable resurgence in recent years, and marked a number of milestones.

Now, thanks to federal grant funding and a collaboration between Cranston, the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association (EWPA), and Save The Bay, plans are being developed to help preserve the progress at the local landmark while improving the water quality of Narragansett Bay.

“It’s a great partnership,” said Wenley Ferguson, restoration coordinator for Save The Bay.

The cove holds a significant place in Cranston’s history and natural landscape. It served as the landing spot for Americans following the 1772 burning of the Gaspee, and in 1915 was formally designed Stillhouse Cove Park by the state’s Metropolitan Parks Commission. It is the only salt marsh in Cranston, and the city’s sole public point of access to Narragansett Bay.

Barbara Rubine of the EWPA has in recent years helped oversee major efforts to revitalize the cove and park, which have included a major re-vegetation and erosion control project and the opening of a new boat ramp. A celebration was held last year to mark the 100th anniversary of the park’s establishment.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Rubine said.

The focus of the latest initiative is on developing new green infrastructure to help reduce, capture, and filter stormwater making its way to the cove. Doing so, Rubine said, will help preserve the physical, environmental, and aesthetic improvements at the site – particularly in terms of combating erosion, the growth of invasive vegetation, and the presence of algae – while contributing to a broader push to raise the water quality level in the Providence River and upper portion of Narragansett Bay.

“It is a lot of work to dig out what is washing down the street, causing erosion,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission jointly announced a $99,100 grant award for the latest initiative at the cove as part of a broader $815,000 grant package for Narragansett Bay watershed projects in multiple Rhode Island and Massachusetts communities. The money comes through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Program.

Rubine and Ferugson said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed played an instrumental role in securing the federal funds. The city has committed another $35,000 to the project, while Save The Bay and the EWPA are contributing $7,925 in in-kind services.

Currently, the cove’s watershed has been mapped, and work is under way to collect data regarding the volume and nature of stormwater that makes its way toward the site.

The watershed extends from near the intersection of Bluff Avenue and Narragansett Boulevard on the north to Fort Avenue on the south, and west toward the midpoint between the boulevard and Broad Street, jutting father east or west within that space at various points.

Two potential sites have been identified for the creation of new green infrastructure to capture and filter stormwater – one on the east side of Narragansett Boulevard at the Strathmore Place end of the park, and the other across the street near the boulevard’s intersection with Sefton Drive. These structures would serve to remove nutrients that fuel the growth of invasive vegetation and algae and passively allow the stormwater to filter into the groundwater.

“The whole purpose is to have these not be standing pools of water,” Tally said.

Ferguson pointed to a recent project in Warren – using graded, vegetated depressions and accompanying berms to direct and contain runoff – as similar to what is envisioned for the Stillhouse Cove project. She said the relatively compact nature of the watershed provides a unique opportunity.

“This is kind of a unique little site,” she said.

Rubine, Ferguson, and Ed Tally, environmental engineer with the city’s Department of Public Works, said the project remains in the design phase. Collection of stormwater data continues, and engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill has been contracted to work on the project.

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