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Did You Know Salt Ponds Can Drown?Ninigret Restoration Project

The thought had never occurred to me. So, having heard about the Ninigret Pond Restoration Project currently underway at the Charlestown Breachway, I took a drive over to the Charlestown Breachway today to learn more.

Two factors are causing unwanted amounts of sand to enter the salt ponds:

  1. Rising sea levels, which have been accelerating in RI these last 30 years.
  2. Sudden and dramatic coastal changes brought on by high impact storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Ninigret Restoration ProjectBoth of these factors result in strong tides that sweep large amounts of sand into the salt ponds, where they build up to cover eelgrass beds, eventually destroying their ecosystem by converting them into lifeless mud flats.

Another impact of sand movement is that channels fill in making it more difficult for boaters to navigate.

The organization overseeing this project is the Coastal Resources Management Council of Rhode Island.

How is the Ninigret Pond Restoration Project Being Funded?

Superstorm Sandy relief funds under the U.S. Department of the Interior have helped fund the project, and National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resilience Program has been the Rhode Island agency heading up the use of the relief funds for the Ninigret Restoration Project. Additionally, The state of Rhode Island, and the Towns of Charlestown and Westerly have also contributed matching funds to the project. There are many stakeholders involved.

Dredging is taking place right now at the Charlestown Breachway and entrance to Ninigret Pond. The total project area is about 25 acres.

What are the goals of the Ninigret Pond Restoration Project?Ninigret Restoration Project

  1. Deploy a lightweight, amphibious excavator to build up the elevation of the marsh, in some areas as much as 12 inches.
  2. Restore native marsh plant life by working with Save the Bay to replant at least 3 acres of the marsh this Spring.
  3. Make the area more resilient to future sea level rise.
  4. Deepen the channel so it is more navigational for boaters.

Who is doing the dredging of the Ningret Restoration Project?

JF Brennan Company Inc., an environmental services and marine construction firm specializing in waterway remediation and habitat restoration, is doing the work. A network of orange pipes have been set up to move, redistribute and spread the sand to new locations, both along the Charlestown Beach shoreline and in Ninigret Pond.

Dredging will take place 6 days a week, 24 hours per day and is expected to be completed by February 1, 2017. If you get a chance, take a drive and check it out. It’s an impressive operation to see the sand being pumped from the salt pond, across the camping ground parking lots and out to the ocean.

Plans were to set up the shoreline deposit location further down the beach towards Green Hill Beach. However, some property owners did not grant easements. So, the sand deposit location is closer to the Breachway channel entrance than planners had hoped.

This means two things:

  1. Green Hill Beach will not benefit from the dredging at Charlestown in the way we have in the past. A previous dredging project resulted in welcomed sandier shores for Green Hill residents.
  2. The sand is being deposited closer to the Breachway channel entrance, so has less distance to travel to reenter Ninigret Pond. This means the possibility that the time it will take for unwanted volumes of sand to return to Ninigret Pond will be shorter.

The sands of time cannot be stopped. Years pass whether we will them or not… but we can remember. What has been lost may yet live in memories. – Christopher Paolini

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