2013-11-21 / News

Harbor panel mulls proposal to install conservation moorings

Chainless system would do less harm to eelgrass
By Margo Sullivan

The Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership has chosen Jamestown as the site of its upcoming mooring project, Chris Powell told the Harbor Commission at its Nov. 13 meeting.

The selection means a chance to swap out traditional moorings and replace them with conservation moorings that operate on a “straight up-and-down system” and do not “scour” the eelgrass beds.

Conventional moorings use a chain, and the chain damages eelgrass beds when the boats move around, Powell said.

Powell, the former chief of Jamestown’s conservation board, is vice chairman of the partnership’s steering committee. He explained a federal law allowed a group of states from Maine to Florida to form the partnership as part of a nationwide effort to protect fish.

In a letter dated Nov. 5, Powell told the commissioners that several projects have already been completed in Vineyard Haven, Mass., and in Buzzards Bay. The partnership received a $20,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to start a new project in a different location, he said.

According to Powell, Jamestown was selected because its home to one of the largest eelgrass beds in Narragansett Bay.

The state’s coastal council produced a map in 2012 that showed Jamestown has 1,386 acres of “submerged aquatic vegetation.” Most of the vegetation is eelgrass, Powell said.

The preliminary work has narrowed down the candidate locations to four eelgrass beds where conventional moorings are standing in shallow water. Eelgrass does not grow in water deeper than 15 feet, Powell said. The final determination about the spot will be made in the spring after divers assess the conditions underwater.

All the candidate beds are in commercial marinas. Due to liability issues, Powell said the partnership prefers to work with municipalities or commercial mooring holders, rather than individuals.

Powell came before the commissioners to ask for their support. The town of Jamestown, the Harbor and Conservation commissions would not incur any financial obligation but would be partners in the effort.

Ideally, he said, signage could be installed to describe the project so people would be able to look over the seawall and see the new moorings. According to Powell, the conservation moorings could be distinguished by buoys or green ribbons.

The up-and-down moorings have the potential to increase boat density, he said. According to Powell, the change could open the door for more moorings because boats do not need to be so far apart.

Commissioner Bill Harsch asked whether the added density might not have an adverse conservation impact.

“It allows for denser mooring fields,” Powell agreed, “but they’re expensive.”

Because conservation moorings cost about $3,000, the price would curb the number of moorings, Powell believes.

Harbor Chairman Michael de Angeli asked how the density might impact the environment.

“You always have to worry about that,” Powell said. “All the shackles will be stainless.”

The helical moorings will be galvanized, he added.

Police Chief Ed Mello said the commissioners might want to consider the “density propensity that may happen” if the new moorings are installed. The project is a “tremendous endeavor,” he said, but cautioned the number of new moorings could be hard to predict.

“There’s no formula,” Mello said.

But people are still waiting for moorings, de Angeli said, so increasing the density with conservation moorings could help whittle the waiting list “down to a reasonable point in time.”

In his view, the project is worth trying.

“That’s why you do a demo project,” he said, “to see if you’re going to have problems.”

In other business, the commissioners voted to cap the number of storage permits at Maple Avenue at 60 per Mello’s previous suggestion. Commissioner David Cain visited the site several times and reported there was an option to add another boat storage rack there, but Harsch, who is an abutter, said the impact of the traffic and congestion on Maple Avenue is already “very noticeable.”

He cited the “amount of damage to the sea grass, the erosion, and the number of times people take vehicles outside of the right-ofway and tear up the marsh.”

Harsch abstained from the vote but participated in the discussion. He suggested relieving the pressure on Maple Avenue and diverting people to other locations like Fort Getty.

“There are other access points,” he said. ”None of those have parking problems.”

Finally, the commissioners learned the East Ferry boat ramp has sustained damage below the mean high-tide line. The damage is in the concrete due to erosion.

“I just learned of it this past week,” de Angeli said.

Town Engineer Michael Gray is discussing whether to repair the boat ramp or install a partial replacement.

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