Watershed Group Keeping an Eye on Controversial Railroad Project

Editor’s note: The following is the initial response from the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association regarding the Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary proposal to straighten the Northeast Corridor tracks.

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) is reviewing the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and gathering facts to understand the potential impacts of the proposed re-routing of train tracks through the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The FEIS is a multi-state planning document that is thousands of pages long and will take a lot of time for WPWA to carefully review.

WPWA recognizes the potential environmental and economic benefits of improving and expanding high-speed rail service. However, the proposed route causes us serious concern about the potential for negative impacts to habitat, surface and groundwater, and public, private and conservation lands.

Comprehensive consideration at a high level was given to selecting this route from three route alternatives. Rhode Island and Connecticut officials were consulted and did comment on the route selection process in what is known as the Tier 1 assessment phase that culminated in the recently published FEIS.

One or more of these alternatives would have ended Acela service to T.F. Green Airport, URI/Kingston and the Providence area. One alternative even had the train bisecting the Scituate Reservoir.

Absent from the Tier 1 assessment is any citation that the rivers proposed to be traversed are afforded protection from development by WPWA’s ongoing Wild and Scenic study sponsored by the National Park Service. This was likely an oversight based on the timing of the FEIS’s development and the passage of the Wood Pawcatuck Protection Act in December 2014. The yet to be funded but federally mandated Tier 2 review process will address this oversight and is the appropriate point in the process in which the impacted towns, landowners and conservation organizations will be heavily consulted.

You can count on WPWA with its legal standing granted by the Legislature to participate in the review and comment that occurs as part of Tier 2, if that phase eventually receives funding. During that process, WPWA will carefully review and thoughtfully comment on the more route- and site-specific information that will be provided by the Federal Railroad Commission. Our comments will expand upon those already submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency related to its serious concerns specifically related to surface, aquifer and drinking water.

The WPWA has committed to partnering with other conservation organizations that operate on a watershed-wide basis, such as the Rhode Island and Connecticut chapters of The Nature Conservancy. Together we will work with the state’s congressional delegation to defend the natural and human resources that may be affected. We encourage our neighbors and community partners to engage in the public process, and to assist in determining acceptable alternatives to the proposed route.

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, since its inception in 1983 as a nonprofit, has worked to promote and protect the integrity of the lands and waters of the Pawcatuck River watershed.