2011-12-15 / News

CRMC, Jamestown Vineyards agree on restoration plan for wetland violations

BY TIM RIEL


The CRMC and PBH Realty have agreed to reduce the wall height by 4 feet in order to restore a stream that was damned when alterations were made on Jamestown Vineyards. The pond that was created by the damning was the center of six state freshwater wetland violations. 
PHOTO BY TIM RIEL The CRMC and PBH Realty have agreed to reduce the wall height by 4 feet in order to restore a stream that was damned when alterations were made on Jamestown Vineyards. The pond that was created by the damning was the center of six state freshwater wetland violations. PHOTO BY TIM RIEL A compromise was met following a two-year battle between the state coastal agency and a real estate company over six freshwater wetland violations on a Beavertail property.

The Coastal Resources Management Council unanimously voted Tuesday to accept the restoration order from PBH Realty, even though it was different from what the two parties agreed on during an August on-site meeting at the property.

The public hearing on Dec. 13 was held because the restoration order that was submitted by PBH Realty had discrepancies with what they were told to comply with by CRMC enforcement offi cials. These discrepancies were because the map being used by CRMC was inaccurate to what the council was asking for, according to Scott Rabideau, a professional wetland scientist testifying for PBH Realty.

The six freshwater violations stem from a pond that was created on land at 260 Beavertail Road by damning a stream using a stone wall. The 20-acre property – called Jamestown Vineyards – is being used to grow grapes for harvest to make wine. It was bought for $3.3 million in December 2005 by PBH Realty, a subsidiary of the Procaccianti Group. The company is a Cranston real estate investment firm owned by James Procaccianti, who also owns property in Shoreby Hill.

CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate began the meeting by summing up the controversy for the panel. “We had a meeting onsite with the property owner, his legal attorney and [CRMC] staff was present,” he said. “We discussed potential resolutions. We came to the conclusion to cut a notch in the dike.”

He added, “Apparently there is some indication that they don’t want to go down the level we agreed upon in the field.”

The stone wall is currently measured at 22 feet. What the two groups agreed on during the onsite meeting was to reduce it to 16 feet, which would restore it back to the original state before alterations were made. A 2002 CRMC map of the land was used for reference. Rabideau told the council that the CRMC map was wrong, and to bring the land back to its original state he would only need to cut it down to 18 feet. (The reason for the decrease in height is so that water can flow freely from the wetland to Narragansett Bay.)

At the beginning of the public hearing, Councilor David Abedon let his impatience with the situation be known. “So we have to renegotiate? When does this discussion end? It’s been going on forever,” he said. “Given the length of time that has transpired on this matter, and with very clear recommendation with staff, I’m going to ask the chair to expedite this as fast as possible so we can make a decision and not belabor yet again.”

Chairwoman Anne Livingstone said that because the on-site meeting wasn’t an official agreement on the record, PBH Realty had the right to address the council.

Rabideau began his presentation by showing a DEM-approved map from 1997. He said that if the council’s goal was to restore the land back to its original state and for the water to flow as it had before through the stream, the 1997 map showed that 18 feet was accurate, not the 16 feet that the CRMC map showed.

“I went out and gathered the most accurate information,” he said. “I’m not leaving a pond in place with what I’m doing. What staff told me was they want it down to 16 [feet]. That’s not what it previously was, in my professional opinion.”

He added, “It’s going to change everything in the world if I bring that down to 16. That will alter the flow. We weren’t that far apart. That’s what I’m trying to say. This is what I got the information for. I didn’t pull it out of the sky. I did the research.”

Along with decreasing the height of the wall, the restoration plan also says that it will remove the pipe that is in the pond. The pipe was put there so the pond doesn’t overflow – when the water reaches a certain height, it drains through the pipe, into the stream and down to the bay.

So how would the land look after the construction? “I think you will get 6 to 10 inches of water in the summer time and a breeding ground for frogs and salamanders,” said Rabideau.

Before the hearing concluded, Councilor Bruce Dawson made sure that no stones were left unturned, alluding to the fact that every time they agree on a plan, something goes awry. “Are we missing someone? Are you bringing this back to someone and they’ll say, ‘No, I’m not doing it?’”

“No, we have full authority,” said Ruth Silman, an attorney present on behalf of PBH Realty.

The deadline for completion of restoration in June 1.

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