2007-01-18 / News

Conservation Commision seeks funding for restoration of Round Marsh

By Michaela Kennedy

At its Jan. 10 meeting, the Conservation Commission reviewed ways of obtaining funds to restore Round Marsh, located at the Conanicut Island Sanctuary and North Main Road.

The commission is currently awaiting approval on proposals submitted to the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and to the state Coastal Resources Management Council.

Commissioner Carol Trocki reported walking the site with a biologist and an engineer who represents the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program through NRCS. Feedback from the researchers was positive, and the project "should rank highly in consideration" for grant money from the WHIP, Trocki noted. "The engineer from NRCS agreed it would be good to excavate in order to restore tidal flow in the area," Trocki said.

If the CRMC's Habitat Restoration Trust Fund awarded funding to the town, the money could pay for design and technology support of the project. The money might also be dedicated as matching funds, if required, for the WHIP grant, Trocki said.

In documented history of the coastal wetland, the site marked for restoration used to flourish with saltwater flow from the bay before the construction of the toll plaza and the Newport Bridge 40 years ago. Commission Chairman Christopher Powell noted that the culvert under Route 138 was originally designed to allow coastal water to flow in and out of the swamp with the tides. But the pipe has become blocked over the years, creating a growth of phragmites, which are invasive reeds with little benefit to wildlife habitat.

In other business, Commissioner Mark Baker reported on his consultation with the graphic designer for the new trails guide for the Conanicut Island Sanctuary. Baker suggested inserting a street map of the island into the guide showing the location of each trail. Baker also gave the committee information on price quotes from various printers. With a recommendation from Baker, the commission voted to award the printing job of the guide to Island News Enterprises.

Powell announced that Ft. Getty has a new dinghy rack, thanks to the efforts of Eagle Scout Zachary Volpe of Boy Scout Troop 1.

In a discussion concerning the Hull Cove right-of-way improvement project, Trocki said laying down wood chips on the path would not solve the mud and water problems there. "The whole trail should be treated as a wetland," she said, noting that currently the entire trail was underwater.

Amidst concerns that a constructed trail at the right-of-way might affect the wetlands, Powell noted that a trail should mitigate the impact of the marsh.

In a briefing about a conservation development workshop provided by the Department of Environmental Management, Commissioner Mark Baker reported the training focused on the role of entities involved in land use decisions within communities around the state. Baker shared ideas from the workshop regarding good land use decisions. He noted that much of the discussion was directed toward commissioners. "Commissions don't have, by statute, the ability to deny permits, but many communities are changing, putting a review process into their planning documents," he said. Baker mentioned trends to revamp form-based procedures, and recommendations that conservation commissions around the state get more involved with community planning processes. "They recommended there be a liaison from the Conservation Commission to the Planning Commission," he added.

Powell noted that the board has worked well with the Planning Commission over the years, with good communication between the boards concerning land use.

In new business, Powell asked if any member had interest in joining the wind turbine committee. Commissioner Cathy Roheim volunteered. Powell suggested the commission write a letter to the chairman of the Town Council requesting a seat on the committee. "It's a good idea, but the environmental issues have to be addressed," said Powell about installing wind turbines on the island.

Also in new business, the commission discussed how to educate land owners that may qualify for Farm, Forest and Open Space tax relief. Trocki suggested finding out how many properties qualify, saying, "Once the database is in place, it can be linked up with the town's GIS (geographic information system) map of all the plats on the island."

The board agreed to ask the tax assessor for the information. Powell added, "The law gives immediate relief if you qualify."

In other business, Powell asked if the commission was interested in participating in the North Kingstown environmental fair on March 17. Board members discussed the possibilities for a booth, such as a display of the raptor project.

In correspondence, the commission received a letter from Commissioner Tom Johnson stating he would not seek reappointment to the board.

In a memorandum from the town administrator, the town needed a budget request from the commission for the upcoming year. Trocki made a motion to ask for $2,200, for the fiscal year, and the board approved the request.

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