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Monday, January 29, 2007

Beachgoers Find One Man’s Trash is Not Another Man’s Treasure

January 26, 2007
By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The beach replenishment project is surely bringing sand to Matunuck’s shores, but along with it is coming reams of rope, rubber gloves and pop-top beer cans galore.

Lobster bands littered the beach like confetti yesterday as concerned citizens and environmental officials inspected the coastline near Deep Hole, a prime fishing and surfing spot. It appears that the dredging project under way at the Harbor of Refuge is digging up three decades of trash that has fallen or been thrown off boats. Now that waste is landing on the beaches as a result of a plan to dump the dredged material just offshore to restore Matunuck’s storm-stripped beaches.

“This was supposed to be clean sand and gravel from Point Judith Pond. … We were under the understanding there was no garbage,” said John Torgan, Baykeeper with Save the Bay.

Save the Bay, which was contacted by the Rhode Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, is asking that work be suspended until it is determined to be safe to proceed.

“We may need to stop this dredging project until this is all sorted out,” Torgan said.

Laura Ricketson, spokeswoman for the state Coastal Resources Management Council, said the refuse was not hazardous.

“None of it’s contaminated. This is all stuff that has been either lost overboard or tossed overboard,” she said.

A tour of the beach in the vicinity of Deep Hole and the Ocean Mist found fishing nets, rubber gloves and boots, hoses, a leather belt and hundreds of pop-top beer cans, some apparently dating to when the harbor was last dredged 30 years ago.

Ricketson said there were no plans to stop the dredging. The CRMC is the state sponsor of the dredging operation, which is being overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“If we pull out now, the channel will not be navigable,” she said. “We have to weigh having non-hazardous material wash up on the beach and having the channel not be safe.”

Work began last month to remove 90,000 cubic yards of sand and sediment from about 20 acres encompassing the harbor channels and anchorage areas. A natural buildup of silt and sand in the port’s channel was making navigation hazardous, according to the Army Corps.

Under local pressure to help replenish the area’s eroding beaches, the Army Corps agreed to dispose the dredged material at two locations in the intertidal zone off Matunuck. On average, a dump scow has been releasing two loads a day.

By contract, Newborn Construction Inc., the contractor, must separate the trash from the fill, said Michael Walsh, project manager for the Army Corps. While workers are detecting larger items, smaller debris, such as beer cans, is getting through.

Walsh said he had heard only one other complaint about debris which followed a coastal storm about a month ago.

“Our hope is what’s washed up is a pocket,” Walsh said. “In the harbor, some people throw stuff away. I think we hit a spot where people were being irresponsible and dumping offshore.”

The debris is believed to have been pulled from the dock area, Ricketson said.

Newborn has agreed to clean the beaches in the coming days, weather permitting, Walsh said. The project must be completed by March 15, in time for winter flounder to spawn.

“At this point we’re going to have it cleaned up, as necessary,” she said, describing the work as “manageable.”

The debris has proved upsetting to those who frequent the beach.

A friend told Peter Manning, a local surfer, about old beer cans washing up earlier this week. A collector, he was shocked by what he found.

“I wanted to vomit,” he said. Waste that he and others spotted included radiator hoses, fan belts and an oil filter.

“They need to stop dumping so close to shore. This is toxic stuff,” he said.

Manning spent yesterday morning alerting state and environmental officials, along with members of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. The foundation raised concerns in the planning phases of the project about the makeup of the dredged material. The Army Corps has said it tested clean.

“We understood that this area had to be dredged. We just wanted to make sure pollution wasn’t added to the water column,” said David Prescott, chairman of the state chapter. “Our biggest concern is that this is done in the right way and that this isn’t going to affect our beach in the wintertime.”

“This was supposed to be clean sand and gravel from Point Judith Pond. … We were under the understanding there was no garbage.”

John Torgan
Baykeeper with Save the Bay
“This was supposed to be clean sand and gravel from Point Judith Pond. … We were under the understanding there was no garbage.”

John Torgan
Baykeeper with Save the Bay

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