Repair job OK’d for East Ferry boat ramp
The Harbor Commission at its Dec. 11 meeting agreed to spend $10,000 to patch up the East Ferry boat ramp that is in dire need of repairs before next season.
But more money will be needed for a long-term solution for the boat ramp, Police Chief Ed Mello told the commissioners. Moreover, Mello says financing may be complicated because the project wasn’t included in the capital improvement plan.
According to Mello, the ramp has “deteriorated” over a period of years. Some repairs were made by the crew working on the East Ferry seawall earlier this year, but now two precast slabs at the end of the easternmost part of the ramp have completely separated and slid down into a hole, he said.
After discussing the situation with Town Engineer Michael Gray, Mello has a plan to make repairs sufficient to get through 2014. He plans to use labor from the Public Works Department, and money for equipment rentals and materials would have to come out of the harbor budget. Mello said Gray estimated the expenses would run the harbor office around $10,000.
Long term, however, the entire ramp will have to be replaced, Mello said. Therefore, he also recommended including an additional $20,000 in the upcoming budget for the new fiscal year to pay for the permitting costs.
Mello had some good news for the commissioners, however. There is “viable potential” that the state Department of Environmental Management will pay for 75 percent of the replacement costs.
Could state money also be used to defray the $20,000 cost of going through the permitting process, Chairman Michael de Angeli asked.
Mello replied he would find out. In the meantime, he wanted authorization to commit the $10,000 to make the ramp usable for at least one more season. That would buy time to start the permitting and look into grant opportunities.
“It sounds sensible,” de Angeli said. “It sounds like the obvious way to go.”
As an added advantage, by having the town do the job, the commissioners would not have to bid for a contractor.
Commissioner Patrick Bolger asked whether the short-term repairs could make the situation worse, instead of better.
“Are we concerned the repairs aren’t going to make the ramp unusable in the long term?” he asked.
Mello replied the plan was to take “a measured approach” and hope for the best. “We have to lift those slabs that have slid out,” he said.
Mello says workers will need to “somehow grade” the area and then put the slabs back.
“If successful, the life expectancy on that repair may be greater than expected,” he said. If so, the ramp could last another 18 to 24 months, but they wouldn’t know until work started and they could assess the situation.
“Just fiscally, I think that’s the responsible way,” Mello said.
“If it looks good, then we put this off to another year,” de Angeli said.
If the Harbor Commission was awarded a grant to pay for the job, Mello added, the work would not have to start immediately.
Usually the grants are open for a few years, he said, but added the boat ramp eventually must be replaced.
“It’s inevitable this has to happen,” he said.
In other business, the commissioners heard a presentation about Rhode Island aquaculture from Dave Beutel, aquaculture coordinator for the state’s coastal council.
In the 1900s and early 20th century, he said, aquaculture farms encompassed 21,000 acres in Rhode Island. Today, the state has 50 aquaculture farms on 172.25 acres.
The changes over the past 150 years have been substantial.
The DEM does not want aquaculture to “take over” again and has established rules to ensure that. In coastal ponds, aquaculture farms are limited to no more than 5 percent of the surface, Beutel said.
Most Rhode Island aquaculture is concentrated in shellfish, and 98 percent of the farms grow oysters. About 1.5 percent harvest littleneck clams and quahogs, and the remaining half percent of aquaculture farms grow seaweed and other products.
Beutel said most Rhode Island aquaculture farms grow oysters in cages that sit on the ocean floor in shallow waters. The cages have shelves, and the bags of oysters are on each shelf.
“The challenge is the biosphere,” he said.
Because the cages are quickly covered with substantial growth, they require labor to keep everything clean.
The cages off Watson Farm are suspended from the surface, he said, and held on a line under the floats.
“The top of the cage is about 6 feet down from the surface,” he said. “It’s relatively harmless to navigation, although some people have managed to hit the floats on occasion.”
Another method that’s new to Rhode Island is floating aquaculture. Beutel explained that’s when the cages or bags float on the surface.
Each one is a pontoon, he said, with two pontoons per cage. The arrangement keeps the oysters in cages in the top 12 inches of water. Beutel said it’s advantageous because that’s where the oysters can feed on the highest concentration of bioplankton. The cage cleaning is also simple, he added. Four sites in Rhode Island have pontoons.
One other system is also used in Rhode Island.
“An upweller is a hatchery and a nursery simultaneously,” he said. “Water is forced up through silos holding millions of shellfish millimeters in size.”
Upwellers can spark controversy when used in waters where shellfishing is not allowed, such as a marina. Typically, the farmers can grow the shellfish up to 32 millimeters, and then they have to relocate the oysters to waters approved for shellfishing. Beutel said aquaculture can be helpful in restoring water quality because the oysters filter the water.
Jamestown would like to look at the options for water restoration in Sheffield Cove, Commissioner Ed McGuirl said.
“Places that are closed to shellfishing are in my mind ideal locations for restoration projects because they’re already closed and the shellfish are likely to improve water quality,” Beutel said.
However, the state DEM considers such projects “attractive nuisances” because of concern some bad oysters, contaminated with bacteria, could get into the markets, make someone ill, and jeopardize the entire industry. As a result, wrangling a permit is challenging, though not impossible, Beutel said.