Maintenance work planned on island walking trails
Jamestown Conservation Commissioners last week set an extensive agenda for themselves. They reviewed immediate maintenance needs for town trails, possibilities for scout conservation projects, options for keeping up-to-date on wind energy, and multiple-year projects to monitor and control invasive forms of plants and trees newly found on the island.
Not on their agenda was taking a position on the town referendum Aug. 28 about building a highway barn on a portion of the Taylor Point property near a Pell-Newport Bridge ramp. Commissioners opposed a barn a few years ago on another part of the Taylor Point site because it would have dumped drainage into Potters Cove and had other impacts of concern to the conservationists. They noted last week that the new location will not have the drainage factor, but will have "a visual impact." They specified they would identify environmental factors, if any exist, as any barn site proceeds through the permitting processes.
The commission members will decide later this month about an alternate date for their regularly scheduled Aug. 14 meeting, pending coordination of members' schedules and commission objectives. Among agenda items that are pending is their concern about what they see as dock proliferation and environmental aspects of new docks, particularly in terms of impacts on eelgrass beds around the island.
Commission Chairman Christopher Powell was assigned to discuss the trail work with town officials to determine what work may be assigned to town workers, and if any unassigned work might be appropriate for scouts, who have worked extensively with the commission on several projects over the years. Commissioner Jennifer Talancey agreed to compile a list of tasks needing attention at the Sanctuary Trail, including new signs that are needed and that Powell expects to be able to provide. She talked about the need to reach a third viewing platform, and repair of an area where ground water had caused a cave-in on an old road.
The town, over the years, had agreed to do some of the work, according to Commissioner Patrick Driscoll, but some chores were not automatically assumed. Commissioners want to clarify responsibility for the tasks, such as at the Kit Wright Sanctuary at Fort Getty and at the Conanicut Land Trust parcel. Commissioners also authorized some trail work, needing immediate attention, to be done by power equipment within its own budget.
The commission had received a scout inquiry about work to be done at Hull Cove, where a makeshift boardwalk of pallets may need supplementing with a sturdier structure. The conservationists indicated they would discuss scouting goals with leaders to understand what would represent general scouting work and what might be judged as Eagle Rank involvement.
Commissioners have been looking for months to coordinate their expertise with that of the town wind energy committee appointed early this year to advise the town about that technology. Part of the problem of coordination has been the committee's regular meeting soccurring the same night at the conservationists'.
A suggestion that schedules be modified has gone without response. Conservationists said they would like to arrange a joint meeting if the wind energy committee members would be interested. Commissioners are concerned about areas designated as open space in general, and related uses of those spaces for recreation and schools.
Member Carol Trocki reported that the scope of work on the Round Marsh project has been set and design has been scheduled for next spring, with construction probable in 2009. She said the design will not include work east of the Newport Bridge toll plaza "where it is double ditched and far more complex, with an old culvert and road runoff, that would require massive changes."
The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service is handling project activities that focus on dispersing sediment. The federal agency awarded the town $67,000 toward an $89,000 Wildlife Habitat Incentive Project to restore tidal flushing to the upper regions of Great Creek near Round Marsh west of the toll plaza.
The commission defined the need to restore the area and Trocki sought the funding. The project also will include state-provided mosquito abatement.
Commissioners reviewed the status of beach grass at Mackerel Cove, the town beach, subjected to heavy holiday use recently and extensive storm damage earlier this year. Overall, Driscoll suggested, the area "looks good and would benefit from planting of breach grass."
The conservationists said they would seek information and a tour at Fort Getty to assess plans for revision and expansion of use of the town park there, used mostly for recreational vehicle camping. Commissioners said they want to make sure the plans do not represent overuse of the space there, and that adding a section of road or establishing new parking does not overburden the land. Sometimes, something can fit physically, but not environmentally, they indicated.
Driscoll, a neighbor of the Fort Getty Park, said he has some concerns, but he did not want to influence other commissioners because he realizes he is seen as having personal interests at stake.
Powell and Driscoll raised concerns about reports of invasive trees identified on the property at the town's main reservoir, North Pond. They said they would explain their findings and the problems to town officials, especially the Department of Public Works, which includes the town water department.
"It's important that they be removed before the species takes over," Driscoll commented.
The two previously expressed concerns about recent activities of the town tree committee, including personnel and committee changes. They repeated their belief in the importance of the tree committee and the investment value of trees for the community.
Talancy spoke at length about the evolving growth of the invasive Japanese knotweed. She said it apparently was imported and planted about 20 years ago as a screening plant at West Reach Estates and is spreading to neighboring woods, including town-owned property on North Main Road. She suggested the invasive plant could not be eradicated, but could be controlled.
The knotweed is known to choke out native plants. Talancy said she would collect data about the species, especially about ways to best control it. She reported the knotweed is just one of several invasive plants found on the island.
She identified the Norway Maple as a significant threat to elm, ash and black cherry trees by overshading those species. "If we don't act now to stop its spread, Jamestown woods could become monoculture and ugly," she commented.
Commissioners said they want- to gather data, including photos of undesirable plants, and launch an education project. The data would be used to let property owners know what can be done, and to encourage interest in developing a volunteer corps to otherwise cope with the invasive plants.
Commissioners also are working on a guide book to advise townspeople about town trails, and on a public information campaign to encourage use of tax programs that help property owners save money so they might avoid selling property for development.