EDITORIAL

A cleaner bay

Posted

Who would have believed 18 years ago when a consent agreement was signed that a tunnel would be responsible for cleaning up the waters of Narragansett Bay to levels where areas closed to shellfishing for more than 70 years could reopen.

The tunnels that are part of the combined stormwater overflow or CSO have been carved out of the bedrock below Providence at a cost of more than half a billon dollars. They serve as holding tanks for stormwater and sewage that would otherwise flow into the Providence River during heavy rain events. Following those storms, the wastewater is pumped to the Narragansett Bay Commission treatment facilities and treated before the effluent is released into the Providence River.

The first phase of the three-phase system came on line in 2008. With the second phase kicking in six years later. A third phase that is projected to cost more than the first two at $700 million would capture stormwater and sewage flushed into the Blackstone and Seekonk Rivers during heavy rainfalls is in the permitting process.

Based on studies conducted during one of the wettest Aprils on record, the Department of Environmental Management announced Friday it was removing restrictions on shellfishing in an area north of Warwick Point extending to a line between Rocky Point and Colt State Park known as Conditional Area A and easing restrictions on Area B that is north of A. Based on rainfall, the areas were closed to shellfishing. Now Area A will be open regardless of the rainfall for an average increase of about 30 percent according to local shellfishermen.

Lifting conditions on one area and easing on the second is expected to increase shellfish harvests, said to account for $5 million in sales annually. About 800 quahoggers, with the largest concentration based at Warwick marinas and docks, have multi-purpose shellfishing licenses.

In addition, DEM said it may create a conditional area north of Conimicut Point that has been closed to shellfishing since 1946. The proposal is under review with the possibility of an area opening in the fall.

This is encouraging news. It validates antidotal observations from boaters, fishermen and those living on bay shores that bay waters are cleaner. It also justifies the increases NBC ratepayers have been faced with to carry the debt of the CSO system.

As Jamie Samons, NBC information officer, pointed out in the Tuesday Beacon, the entire state is benefiting from the investment made by NBC’s 180,000 ratepayers. She wasn’t suggesting that all Rhode Islanders should now share in that cost, but merely observing we have a cleaner bay for all to enjoy.

Our point, at the risk of sounding too simplistic, is that cleaning the environment and keeping it clean is an environmental investment that can yield direct economic benefits. Thank you NBC ratepayers. And in the same breath, thank you to the more than 20,000 Warwick sewer users for tying into the city system and paying to clean up wastewater that also flows into Narragansett Bay.

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