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RI Coastal Resources Management Council preserve, protect, develop, and restore coastal resources for all Rhode Islanders

CRMC funds six habitat restoration projects

May 20, 2024, WAKEFIELD —The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has awarded funding for six habitat restoration projects in the 21st year of its RI Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund (CEHRTF).

Breakheart Pond Dam

Breakheart Pond Dam, located in the Acadia Management Area in Exeter, RI

The Council heard recommendations for funding at the May 14, 2024 semi-monthly virtual meeting from the Fund’s Technical Advisory Committee, which is co-chaired by CRMC and the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Projects approved by the Council for funding this year include a dam removal and resiliency enhancements at Rodman Hill Dam, data collection and analysis to support fish passage at the Pontiac Dam, riverbank stabilization, salt marsh restoration maintenance, and underwater video to support eelgrass restoration. As with the previous years, in its request for proposals the CRMC put special emphasis on projects that would enhance the resiliency of Rhode Island’s coastal habitats to climate change and sea level rise.

The Trust Fund awarded $50,000 to the Pawtuxet River Authority and its partners for data collection and analysis to support fish passage at the Pontiac Dam on the Pawtuxet River. Following the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls Dam in 2011, the Pontiac Dam remains the first obstruction to anadromous and migratory fish from the tidal waters of Narragansett Bay. Removal of the dam or restoring fish passage at the site will provide access to an additional 2.5 river miles and approximately 35 acres of habitat area upstream of the Pontiac Dam. This project aims to confirm the presence of anadromous fish downstream and at the base of Pontiac Dam with fisheries surveys and eDNA sampling; investigate the current bathymetry of the Pontiac Dam pond, including depths, quality, and physical characteristics of impounded sediment; and continue coordination with landowners and project partners.

Pontiac Mill Dam on the Pawtuxet River in Warwick, RI

Pontiac Mill Dam on the Pawtuxet River in Warwick, RI

The Council awarded $50,000 in Trust Fund monies to the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC) and its partners for river streambank stabilization work at San Souci Drive. As climate change brings higher intensity and more frequent storms, erosion along this bend of the river has become worse in the last decade. In particular, the multi-use trail completed in 2019 and San Souci Drive are at high risk of further slumping into the river – degradation and cracks in the last couple of months led the Providence Emergency Management Agency to put cones on the trail in March 2024. The Providence Department of Public Works is concerned and has identified this area as a priority and safety issue. The WRWC plans to restore the habitat and stabilize the streambank along San Souci Drive and the United Way of Rhode Island property in Providence. The priority is creating a flood and climate-resistant stable streambank that improves habitat for pollinators, aquatic species, and mammals along the river. Part of the project includes utilizing a mix of hard (rip-rap) and soft (geogrid, coir fiber matting and/or other plantable structures planted with native wildlife-friendly vegetation) bank stabilization methods. This project received funding from the CEHRTF in 2019 and 2022 (though much of the funds were not spent and remain available).

Save The Bay, the Town of North Kingstown and other partners received $49,000 for the removal of the Rodman Mill Dam and associated site improvements to enhance climate resiliency on the Annaquatucket River in North Kingstown. Removal of the dam would restore a one-acre millpond to a riverine system and open approximately 2.7 miles of stream habitat for anadromous fish passage. The section of river proposed for restoration was dammed and channelized more than 150 years ago when the Rodman Mill Dam was built to support mill operations at the mill complex, which processed cotton and wool from the 1840s to the mid-1900s.The restoration of anadromous fish habitat to the upper Annaquatucket River will be accomplished by removing the dam and restoring the artificially straightened channel downstream of the dam. The project also increases resilience of this river system by restoring a free-flowing river and improving water and habitat quality in the impoundment. The partners received funding in the 2023 round of the Trust Fund for a dam removal reconnaissance study.

Little Mussachuck Creek salt marsh

Save The Bay’s Wenley Ferguson, center, and others visit Little Mussachuck Creek salt marsh in Barrington, RI

The Rhode Island Chapter of Trout Unlimited (RITU) and its partners received $38,798 from the Trust Fund for the Breakheart Pond Dam Removal Feasibility Study. The dam has been a barrier for more than 90 years. Removal will reconnect approximately 4.52 miles of stream and significantly reduce water temperatures in Breakheart Brook, the Flat River, and adjoining waterways. R.I. Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) has been monitoring the pond and brook for more than 20 years and has extensive data documenting the negative effects of the dam on water quality and aquatic habitat. The partners will conduct preliminary data collection and develop a restoration approach for the eventual removal of the dam. After the dam’s removal, RITU and the RIDEM plan to develop an interpretive educational trail within the drained impoundment that connects to an existing trail network on the site.

The Council awarded $18,750 to the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, Town of Barrington and Save The Bay for adaptive management and maintenance of Little Mussachuck Creek Salt Marsh Restoration Project. The creek marsh is a highly dynamic tidal creek, salt marsh and brackish marsh on the eastern side of the Providence River in Barrington, bounded by a narrow coastal barrier spit on the western edge, separating it from Narragansett Bay. In 1998, the Land Trust and Save The Bay conducted a salt marsh restoration to restore tidal flow to the creek, and to allow fresh water to drain. Maintenance was conducted in 2004. From 2004 to 2012 the creek was self-maintaining and remained open. In the four years after, the creek became filled with Phragmites, blocking freshwater flow and allowing the invasive plant to expand. Further sedimentation of the creek and growth of salt marsh grasses has further impacted tidal flow. The project will maintain the tidal creek connecting the restricted northern brackish marsh with Little Mussachuck Creek, to hopefully reduce the Phragmites population, improve the overall health of the marsh, and prevent further marsh platform subsidence by restoring the connection between the marsh and the creek and draining the impacted water off the marsh.

Rodman Mill Dam spillway

A view of the Rodman Mill Dam spillway, within the Annaquatucket River, in North Kingstown, RI. At right is property owner Michael Baker during a 2022 site visit.

The University of Rhode Island and RIDEM received $18,452 in Trust Fund monies for underwater video collection in support of eelgrass restoration in  the South Shore coastal ponds and Narragansett Bay. Eelgrass is a critical marine habitat that provides a multitude of ecosystem services in estuaries and along coastlines in Rhode Island, and it has been in steady decline statewide. Seed-based eelgrass production and reproductive phenology are not well described for the New England region. This information is critical to successful seed-based restoration. The project will support this type of eelgrass restoration efforts by collecting underwater video several times during the growing season (June through September) in order to quantify how much eelgrass is in-flower and producing seeds. This work will supplement a larger project led by RIDEM already funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Habitat restoration projects funded through the RI Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund are recommended by the fund’s Technical Advisory Committee and approved by the RI Coastal Resources Management Council. Program funds come from the state’s Oil Spill Prevention Administration and Response Act (OSPAR), established by the legislature following the 1996 North Cape oil spill. Each year, the CEHRTF advisory committee, with approval of the CRMC allocates $225,000 from the OSPAR account to habitat restoration projects throughout the state.

“The Rhode Island Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund is 21 years old this year, and this year’s round of projects continue the work to restore fish passage, restore salt marsh functions and stabilize eroding streambanks in the face of climate change, and provide vital data on restoring our valuable eelgrass beds in Rhode Island coastal waters,” said CRMC Executive Director Jeff Willis. “The CRMC is honored to have been a vital part of this work for more than two decades.”

To date and including this year, the Trust Fund has awarded $4.8 million for 166 projects, which have leveraged more than $33 million in matching funds. In its 21 years, the Trust Fund has helped fund projects to restore over 2,000 acres of coastal and estuarine habitat, as well as restore fish passage in numerous communities throughout the state. The full report is on the CRMC web site at


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