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RI Coastal Resources Management Council

...to preserve, protect, develop, and restore coastal resources for all Rhode Islanders

CRMC receives NOAA funds to restore Quonnie

August 22, 2017, CHARLESTOWN – The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has been awarded nearly $1 million in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for salt marsh restoration and enhancement at Quonochontaug Pond in Charlestown and Westerly.

The $982,103 the CRMC received comes from NOAA’s Coastal Resilience Grant program, which supports projects designed to help coastal communities prepare for extreme weather and climate-related hazards like sea level rise. It will be used to restore 30 acres of degraded salt marsh in Quonochontaug (nicknamed “Quonnie”) Pond as well as an adjacent area used for recreational fishing. Plans for the restoration include depositing dredged material on the marsh surface to fill man-made ditches and elevate it, and replanting the marsh with native species. This work builds on previous restoration planning efforts in the area, which were funded by a 2014 Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

It is estimated that 87 percent of Rhode Island’s salt marshes will be lost over the next century to rising sea levels, and many are already showing signs of degradation from prolonged flooding. Some of the state’s most vulnerable salt marsh complexes are those along the south shore, located along the back of the barrier beaches and dunes that border them. These habitat complexes provide the “first line” of defense against coastal storms for many of the communities of Charlestown and Westerly, two of the municipalities in Rhode Island struck the hardest by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Through this award, the CRMC and its project partners aim to improve the condition and resilience of the marshes within Quonochontaug Pond through the use of dredged material taken from shoaled areas within the manmade breachway to raise the salt marsh surface elevations. Material will be dredged and placed or sprayed on approximately 30 acres of marsh area, and graded to elevations best-suited for native salt marsh plant species. Some areas will then be planted with grasses grown from plants native to Rhode Island salt marshes.

“Restoring the natural function of the salt marsh and enhancing vegetation will increase the lifespan and resiliency of this important marsh complex in the face of future storms and sea level rise due to climate change,” said Caitlin Chaffee, CRMC coastal policy analyst and lead for the agency on this project. “It will allow the marsh and salt pond to function as a storm surge buffer and flood storage area. It will also preserve and extend the marsh’s many functions and values that support the fishing, tourism, recreation and boating industries, crucial components of the state and surrounding communities’ economies.”

These marshes act as essential fish habitat for commercial and recreation fisheries species – including summer flounder, black sea bass and scup – and forage species. They improve water quality, sequester carbon, and provide breeding and foraging habitat for important migratory bird species as well, including the salt marsh sparrow, a bird being closely studied by conservationists, and close to being endangered.

A beneficial secondary impact from this project will be an expansion of existing eelgrass beds (from the dredging activity), which provide habitat for species like bay scallops, winter flounder, several crab species and several finfish species. Some of the dredged material will also be used to improve and elevate a R.I. Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) public fishing access area adjacent to the marsh and breachway. The parking area – used heavily in the summer by Rhode Islanders and tourists – experiences flooding during high tides.

Construction is slated to begin as early as November 2018, with pre-construction monitoring occurring during that year’s growing season, and planting the following spring.

The Nature Conservancy was also awarded $999,999 to help protect coastal areas from flooding by bolstering natural features along New England’s shoreline, including in marshes along the Narrow River in Narragansett and at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown. The Rhode Island grants were among $13.8 million awarded for coastal resiliency projects across the country. Applications for grants far exceeded available funding. NOAA received 167 proposals requesting more than $135 million in grants.

“The funding from NOAA will allow the CRMC to continue to build on the partnerships it has established with the Town of Charlestown and Salt Ponds Coalition through previous projects,” said CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate. “As a direct result of this project, the CRMC and its partners will improve the resiliency and recreational opportunities of one of Rhode Island’s precious coastal salt ponds. We thank NOAA for this opportunity.”

Map of Quonochontaug Pond

An aerial view of Quonochontaug Pond in Charlestown. (Image courtesy of Town of Charlestown)

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