As part of the long-awaited $33.6 million Apponaug circulator project, the council unanimously voted Wednesday in favor of a freshwater wetlands restoration effort, proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).
The project will now proceed to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) for review, as RIDOT is requesting to alter 12.52 acres of wetlands. The anticipated start date of the circulator project is spring 2014.
City Planning Director William DePasquale addressed the council, noting that the purpose of the alterations is to construct and reconstruct 2.32 miles of roadways, five roundabouts, plus build a new bridge over the Apponaug River, as well as associated storm water management infrastructure, sidewalks, pedestrian facilities and landscaping.
“You’re really looking at an improved wetland value,” DePasquale said, who explained that despite the fact Warwick is losing acreage, it is gaining a better ecosystem and economic advantages.
He went on to say that the city views the project as having the ability to produce many more benefits.
“The post condition, with its significant environmental enhancements, will reverse longstanding man-made alterations to the contiguous wetland ecosystem, the most egregious being the culverting of the Apponaug River,” DePasquale said. “Once complete, this portion of the Apponaug River will enjoy receiving the light of day after a near century of its existence as a dark valueless enclosure … Imagine restoring this fun run that hasn’t occurred in years? That’s a very large benefit that we have here.”
The river, also referred to as Hardig Brook, was covered over as part of the Apponaug Mill.
DePasquale also said that the city is particularly in favor of five mitigation measures proposed by RIDOT, the first being day lighting and the restoration of an approximately 650-foot segment of the Apponaug River through construction of a stabilized open channel along a new alignment that significantly increases its resource and habitat value.
Others include the re-establishment of the riparian corridor that existed prior to the mill development; improvements to maintain and enhance the Alewife fish passage between Greenwich Bay and Little Gorton’s Pond; modifications to restore the former Hardig Pond by improving wildlife habitat and flood protection; and landscaping and stormwater management improvements.
The benefits don’t end there.
“The applicant proposes several measures designed to improve water quality, restore and enhance an important anadromous fish run and restore vegetated wetland areas, all of which are measures consistent with, and specifically supported by, the City of Warwick Comprehensive Plan and the Greenwich Bay Special Area Management Plan,” said DePasquale.
In addition to environmental enhancements, DePasquale believes it will improve the quality of life for residents, visitors and business owners. It establishes a habitat with more functions and values, including a new bike path along Post Road.
“[It] really can be the future for Apponaug Village,” DePasqule said. “This is about changing the whole face of Apponaug. East Greenwich did it; there’s no reason why we can’t do it. We have a beautiful historic center here. In my humble opinion, the value exceeds the [$33.6 million] we’re going to spend on the infrastructure because of the intangibles that it brings.”
Multiple council members praised the proposal, as did Apponaug Improvement Association President Derek Andersen. Not only is he excited about it, but the rest of the group is, too.
“This is all going to make a big difference,” he said.
While no one opposed the project, Kevin Kernan, owner of Apponaug Mini Storage, asked about unintended consequences the project could bring to nearby businesses and homeowners.
“The program sounds good and I think most people are looking forward to it, but I own a little piece of property downstream,” he said. “We didn’t flood in 2010 and I’m a little concerned with all the reworking of the topography that what was a dry property in 2010 even during the flood is still going to remain dry. I hope it won’t be a problem.”
In response, DePasquale said he understands the concern. He suggested scheduling a one-on-on meeting with DOT to discuss the plans.
“The contours don’t lie,” he said. “We’ve done this with other property owners. I think it’s imperative that you sit down with DOT to take a look at the property relative to the improvements and we can answer questions as they come up.”
Additionally, after meeting in July to review the project, the Warwick Wildlife and Conservation Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval. They recommend the following: Prior to and during all ongoing construction, the city be sent weekly reports detailing the installation, maintenance and performance of all sedimentation controls; that the Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga Candensis) that are proposed as plantings along the relocated channel be replaced with another native evergreen species, as Eastern Hemlocks in the state are being destroyed by pests; a guarantee be given that all proposed plantings that die within the first year of planting be replaced at no cost to the city; a guarantee of invasive plant removal be provided for two years following planting; and a pedestrian walkway be created on Kettle Street where it crosses the Apponaug River, complete with a pedestrian bridge crossing the river.
The project will be funded through two sources, including an anticipated Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant in the amount of $10 million, plus $23.6 million through RIDOT.