2005-10-06 / Front Page

Shoreline debris gets Kennedy’s attention

By Donna K. Drago

Shoreline debris gets Kennedy’s attention

Congressman Patrick Kennedy inspects a camel Tuesday. Congressman Patrick Kennedy inspects a camel Tuesday. Congressman Patrick Kennedy has taken up the cause to rid Narragansett Bay of tons of derelict marine debris that litters the shorelines of many Rhode Island communities.

Introduced to the problem by Capt. Alan Wentworth and Capt. Ed Hughes, who together have recently formed a non-profit organization called Clean The Bay, Kennedy was taken on a tour of the dump sites by Hughes and Wentworth on Tuesday.

The two captains did a shoreline survey last fall of the accumulated debris and submitted copies of the survey to many state officials.

After reading the debris survey, Kennedy sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gordon S. England, asking for the Navy’s assistance “with a vigorous effort to remove many decades of heavy debris” from the shores of the bay.

The letter was also signed by the other members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation.

Much of the debris are “camels,” which are large wooden, creosote-soaked blocks that were used by the Navy decades ago to keep large ships from bumping against each other.

Kennedy said that “the U.S. Navy is the world’s largest polluter,” and that they have left debris in ports around the globe.

Seeing the camels for the first time on the bay tour, Kennedy was amazed by the size of some of the debris.

“Wow, look how big it is!” he exclaimed.

Kennedy asked his hosts if he could get up close to one of the camels. They obliged him by beaching the inflatable vessel on the western shoreline of Prudence Island, where Kennedy doffed his shoes and socks and jumped over the side to investigate the camel.

While on shore, Kennedy found an abandoned trash bag and spent some time picking up small debris to bring back to the boat for proper disposal.

“These objects on shore are part of a legacy in our time in the nation’s history,” Kennedy said. “When it was full bore ahead” for the U.S. military, he continued.

“Now it’s damn the torpedoes and everything that went along with them” when it comes to cleaning up decades of debris.

In Rhode Island “so much of our identity being the Ocean State” is based on “living in a pristine environment,” Kennedy said.

“It’s hard to see it trashed like this,” he said about the mile after mile of debris seen on the two-hour tour.

He said he applauded citizens’ groups, and the efforts of Hughes and Wentworth, who have taken responsibility for the bay’s condition over recent years, but he said that when it comes “to objects of unquestionable tonnage,” there is only so much that citizens can do.

Kennedy’s letter to the secretary of the Navy asks for some help with the “removal of potential navigational and environmental hazards,” which Kennedy called “an emerging priority.”

Hughes said that not only were the camels an eyesore, they are also potentially leaching toxic creosote into the sandy soils. Not only that, Hughes pointed out that if a storm comes up the camels can be carried away on the rising tides and become stealthy navigational hazards.

“You can’t see them,” Hughes said, noting that the giant, dark-colored blocks float just below the surface where they can be encountered by boaters.

“We’re very proud of our history with the Navy,” Congressman Kennedy said, but said it was time “to ask them for their help with the clean up effort.”

Hughes and Wentworth’s Clean the Bay organization is working with the state Department of Environmental Management and the state Coastal Resource Management Council to begin the process to remove the junk that also includes floating docks, gas grills, abandoned boats, and other debris.

Hughes said that they will probably begin by “doing it on our own nickel,” while working other jobs, but they were hoping for some grant funds to come through.

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