TC approves $25,000 for Friends of Green Hill Pond

By KENDRA GRAVELLE 3 hrs ago 0

SOUTH KINGSTOWN—The town council voted during its meeting Monday to award $25,000 to Friends of Green Hill Pond to conduct a study aimed at improving circulation in the polluted, 430-acre body of water.

The council’s vote followed a recommendation by town manager Stephen Alfred.

“We are on a staff basis recommending the council provides funding for this project,” Alfred said. “Think of this as a process. It’s the first step in the process to determine what type of improvement would be necessary. What kind of result is anticipated if the dredging were accomplished?”

Dredging, which likely wouldn’t be done for at least two years, could cost around $1.2 million.

Alfred pointed out that by awarding the $25,000 for the study, there is no commitment to pay for the ultimate dredging project.

“It’s a project that would need to find funding,” he said. “It’s not a project that would be a South Kingstown required project. It would be one that South Kingstown could contribute to.”

Dennis Bowman, a member of the group, said results from the upcoming study could position Friends of Green Hill Pond to be able to “get in line” for federal funding for the dredging.

The funds awarded to the group Monday will be used to conduct the first of multiple phases in the project to clean up the pond. This first phase will include field work—performed by University of Rhode Island professor of oceanography John King—to determine the safety and effectiveness of dredging as a means of improving the pond’s condition.

“This is a modest, low-risk project that could have broad water quality benefits,” Bowman explained.

Green Hill Pond, which lies mostly in South Kingstown and partly in Charlestown, boasts a densely populated shoreline.

Due to high levels of pollution, the pond was closed to shellfishing over two decades ago. Bowman pointed out that there are two main contaminants in the pond—nitrogen and bacteria. Both are at excessively high levels.

“Our aim is to reduce the high bacteria that today and for the last 23 years have prevented shellfishing in Green Hill Pond, and have basically made the shellfish in Green Hill Pond inedible, or unsafe to eat,” Bowman said, adding that the closure is a result of high bacteria, rather than nitrogen, levels.

Monday’s request came six months after an initial request by the Friends of Green Hill Pond for $25,000 from the South Kingstown Town Council to conduct a study to determine whether either dredging or installing a breach way could alleviate the pond’s pollution. The council at that point opted not to provide funding. After meeting with Department of Environmental Management (DEM) in May, Bowman said it became “absolutely clear” that DEM would never approve plans to install a breach way there.

The Charlestown Town Council in June denied a similar request for $25,000 from Friends of Green Hill Pond.

“The core argument they made,” Bowman explained, “was that their main problem, as they viewed it, was nitrogen—specifically, nitrogen contaminating their well water.”

“We, in contrast, believe that both should be attacked,” he continued, “but they didn’t see it that way.”

Bowman added that the major problem lies in the South Kingstown portions of the pond’s water. Once the study has been done, he added, he hopes the results convince the Charlestown Town Council to become more involved.

“We’re still irritated with Charlestown,” Bowman said, “but we have hope that over time, the compelling nature of our project and the results, along with maybe a broader view of self interest and changes in council members might eventually win the day. We haven’t given up hope on it.”

Although the average bacteria level in Green Hill Pond is in fact safe for shellfishing, it’s the peak levels that are a cause for concern. During “wet weather events,” stormwater is washed into the pond, Bowman explained. Each year, that peak level has exceeded shellfishing standards, and each year the peak has increased from the previous year.

“It’s an important element,” he continued. “We’re not trying to solve the nitrogen problem here tonight, we’re trying to make progress on the bacteria.”

Approximately 75 percent of the bacterial contaminants are from wildlife and birds, according to a 2003 study by DEM.

The Friends of Green Hill Pond believe the proper action for addressing bacteria levels is through improved water circulation.

The channel the group is proposing to dredge was last dredged in 1985. The point of dredging, Bowman said, would be to speed up a natural process.

“What dredging does is improve water circulation,” he said. “And what improved water circulation does is move the bacteria more rapidly out to the ocean, where the bacteria die.”

The project over the last 10 months has been vetted by several stakeholders, including DEM and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). Once phase one of the project—the fieldwork funded by South Kingstown—is complete, phase two will involve hydrodynamic modeling. That phase will cost $50,000 and will be paid for by grant money from the CRMC. The final phase will involve field work to support permitting. That phase is estimated to cost around $25,000 which will be raised through fundraising efforts.

The group has so far received unsolicited pledges of support from South Kingstown and Charlestown residents and businesses totaling around $9,000.

“This is broad-based, local, community-support involvement that’s being lead by local, volunteer homeowners,” Bowman said. “This is as grassroots as it gets.”