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Gov. Donald Carcieri along with other state and federal officials, dug into the ground near the western shore of the Charlestown Breachway, to kick off an $8.4-million dredging project. 156,700 cubic yards of sediment that will soon be removed from the breachway behind the governor and the tidal deltas further downstream. The project, seven years in the making, is to be finished by the end of March 2005.
A Gorham, Maine-based company is expected to start work at the pond with a cutterhead suction dredge. Inner Space Dredging Services will suck up instead of dig out the sediment so 40 acres of eelgrass habitat can be restored in Ninigret Pond.
Sand sucked up by the hydraulic equipment will be mixed with water and sent through up to 2,000 feet of pipe to nearby beaches, which will be widened and replenished. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to create a sediment basin near the mouth of the breachway to catch the sand that drifts through the waterway and settles at its rear tidal deltas.
By restoring eelgrass habitats at the sandy tidal deltas, the Army Corps hopes to support white flounder, bay scallops, mussels and lobster. The eelgrass, which filters harmful nutrients, should also improve the pond's water quality. Cited in the Westerly Sun, Carcieri stated that the project is a "wonderful thing" because it will preserve one of Rhode Island's natural assets that attracts people from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut to the area.
Ninigret Pond will be the first of three bodies of water in Charlestown and Westerly to be dredged in the South Coast Habitat Restoration Project. Work on Quonochontaug and Winnapaug ponds will be conducted over the next three years.
A total of 57 acres of eelgrass habitat will be restored at the ponds.
South Kingstown, Charlestown, Westerly, the Salt Ponds Coalition supported the project, the University of Rhode Island, the state Department of Environmental Management, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Services.
Carcieri said the Ninigret Pond project exemplifies why Rhode Islanders should Tuesday vote for ballot question No. eight, which is for a $70-million open space bond. That money would go toward preserving thousands of acres, restoring eelgrass habitats, cleaning up the Narragansett Bay and supporting other environmental projects.