Island Project Underway to Protect Vital Watershed

By ecoRI News staff

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — This island town has partnered with the Norman Bird Sanctuary, Aquidneck Land Trust and the Center for Ecosystem Restoration to undertake a $3 million coastal restoration project designed to protect vulnerable natural habitats.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, recently finalized a grant for $2.3 million to Middletown to complete the work. The Aquidneck Island community and its partners are providing more than $644,000 in matching funds. This project is one of five projects in Rhode Island, totaling more than $7 million in federal funds, to help restore marshes, wetlands and shorelines, funded under the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program.

The project area, located entirely within Middletown, is vulnerable to extreme coastal storms such as Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Nemo, which caused billions of dollars in damage across New England.

The area’s coastline, vegetation and wildlife are also at risk of devastation from storms much smaller than Sandy. The Sachuest Bay Coastal Resiliency Project will protect the community’s natural and cultural resources from the increasing challenges of climate change.

Over the next several months, the project partners will complete three major plans to ensure the area is prepared for what Mother Nature may unleash:

A water-quality assessment to identify and reduce pollution within the Maidford River watershed.

A comprehensive land conservation plan by the Aquidneck Land Trust of the Maidford River watershed.

A master conservation plan for the 325-acre Norman Bird Sanctuary.

The town and its partners will award several subcontracts with consulting firms to complete the watershed assessment and two major restoration projects at Second Beach.

Restoration activities over the next two years will protect the area from storms, flooding and rising sea levels that threaten native species and habitats. The work also will improve water quality. The work includes:

Build new dune crossover structures between Second Beach and the parking lot to protect critical dune habitat.

Install an engineered infiltration basin in the parking lot at Surfers End to capture stormwater runoff and reduce coastal pollution.

Raise Third Beach roads and parking lot and install permeable pavement to improve water infiltration, reduce road flooding and increase public safety.

Install a new road crossing over the Maidford River at Paradise Avenue to reduce flooding and improve public safety.

Install a series of engineered stormwater infiltration basins and swales along Paradise Avenue to reduce stormwater and improve drinking-water supplies.

“The people of Middletown value our beaches and coastlines. The funding provided by the Department of the Interior and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is critical to protecting the beaches and keeping them resilient to future storms,” said Shawn Brown, Middletown’s town administrator.

The work at Norman Bird Sanctuary is already well underway. The sanctuary is prioritizing critical habitat areas and has inventoried the invasive species that are to be removed. The master conservation plan being developed will prioritize work to improve public trails and manage invasive species. The handicapped-accessible Universal Trail, along with many others, will be restored to alleviate impacts from flooding events.

The Aquidneck Land Trust will be using its land conservation plan to identify vacant parcels and priority areas that can be conserved in order to improve water quality and wildlife diversity within the watershed. The land trust also will partner with Norman Bird Sanctuary to create an advocacy and education campaign to engage local property owners around their rights and responsibilities in ensuring a healthy watershed.

The Wickford-based Center for Ecosystem Restoration (CER) is providing technical support and public outreach.