Six projects eyed to improve Aquidneck Island water quality

By Derek Gomes
Daily News staff writer

There are two each in Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth.

MIDDLETOWN — A report done on behalf of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission tapped six projects as top priorities to address stormwater runoff and improve water quality.

The projects involve installing systems, called best management practices, intended to increase the amount of stormwater that infiltrates the soil. There are two each in Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth.

The work is part of Island Waters, a planning commission program funded by a three-year, nearly $1 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in September 2016. The commission is hopeful the EPA will extend the grant deadline because installing the best management practices has taken longer than expected.

“It’s a lot of lessons learned along the way,” said Allison McNally, the commission’s program manager. “We had thought we’d be in construction as of this past summer, but we had some extenuating circumstances. The public outreach has taken a little bit longer, various staffing transitions. I think we’re doing OK to hit some spring, summer and fall construction. And then, of course, there’s always the potential of possibly extending the grant period.”

Tom Ardito, the head of the commission, left the nonprofit in November 2017 for a position with Restore America’s Estuaries to develop and implement a new grant program for Southeast New England. John Shea succeeded Ardito as executive director last April.

The planning commission is the lead on Island Waters and has partnered with the three island municipalities, the Aquidneck Land Trust, Clean Ocean Access, the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District, the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Management and the EPA.

Last summer, the planning commission sent an Island Waters status to the three municipalities and other agencies, McNally said recently. Now, the organization is pushing the report completed by its engineering firm, Fuss & O’Neill, to a wider audience.

Stormwater pollution is a pernicious problem. Water that does not seep into the ground becomes runoff and collects pollutants until it empties into the area’s waterways, including Narragansett Bay, the Sakonnet River or one of Aquidneck Island’s seven surface reservoirs that are part of its drinking water supply. In 2014, the state Department of Environmental Management designated all seven as impaired.

“Since stormwater originates from nearly all types of land use on Aquidneck Island … and affects virtually all of the island’s fresh and salt water, an integrated approach is needed to effectively and efficiently address the problem,” the report states. “Island Waters provides such an approach … .”

This isn’t the first comprehensive overview of stormwater issues and possible solutions. Fuss & O’Neill compiled 90 best-management practices for specific sites that were identified in past reports. A rubric was used to score each one. Fourteen projects were selected by “project partners and other stakeholders as most impactful and readily implemented,” the report said.

Physical best-management practices include filter berms (a permeable berm made of gravel or compost placed at the bottom of an agricultural field), wet-vegetated treatment systems (a basin with a gravel bed where plants grow) and tree filters (trees planted within a curb that capture runoff). Non-physical practices include street-sweeping, fertilizer management programs and outreach to teach residents about the effects of pet waste, fertilizer and septic system maintenance on runoff.

The six projects chosen as top priorities are for the Tibbit’s Farm property off Mitchell’s Lane in Middletown; a property off Island Drive in Middletown; two properties in Portsmouth that abut St. Mary’s Pond; a section of Miantonomi Park off Hillside Avenue in Newport; and a property off Sprouting Rock Drive in Newport. The six projects carry an estimated total cost of $1.11 million, the report said. Two other projects identified as top priorities are conservation plans for Hoogendoorn Nurseries on Turner Road in Middletown and Newport Equestrian on Third Beach Road in Middletown.

The Island Waters project has about $1.35 million in funding. In addition to the EPA grant, it received money from other sources, including the state Department of Environmental Management, McNally said. How many of the six projects can be completed will depend on the bid prices Fuss & O’Neill receives, she added.

Asked how far those projects will go toward reducing the pollution within an acceptable range, she said: “It’s a complicated topic. None of these projects are particularly panaceas. They’re going to help. Measuring and monitoring is critical afterwards.”

Organizations can refer to the list of projects scored by the rubric to tackle other projects when more funding becomes available, McNally said.

The full report is available at

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