Monday, February 13, 2017

Power up? Save The Bay weighs the effects of Burrillville power plant on Narragansett Bay

***Originally printed in the Fall 2016 issue of Tides Magazine***

By Topher Hamblett, director of advocacy

A proposed gas-fired power plant in the Narragansett Bay watershed has generated great public interest, with opinions ranging from strongly supportive to vehemently opposed. If approved by state and federal regulatory bodies, the plant would be built in the Clear River watershed, which is part of the Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds.

For Save The Bay, two key issues are at stake:

First, what will be the ecological impacts of the facility on the Clear River, Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds? We’re talking about such ecological issues as groundwater and wetlands systems, wildlife habitats and the water quality of the Clear River. In keeping with our mission, Save The Bay will give these issues very close scrutiny when, and if, Invenergy, the company proposing the plant, submits specific site plans and required permit applications to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Our second concern is about climate change and the potential levels of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the plant — an extremely complicated issue on local, regional and global levels. Save The Bay is mindful of two important facts: 1) global climate change is having profoundly harmful effects on Narragansett Bay, and, 2) under the Resilient R.I. Act of 2014, the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) is required to submit to the Governor and General Assembly a strategy for achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets set forth in the Act. The deadline for this report is December 31, 2016.

Hikers explore the Burrillville woodlands at the site 

of the proposed power plant. 
We are urging the EC4 to consider a number of important questions in order to chart the state’s energy course carefully and thoughtfully. Is the proposed facility even needed to meet state and/ or regional energy needs? What are the benefits of investments in renewable energy generation and energy conservation on energy system supply and distribution? How do they quantify the impact of these investments — past and future — on energy system reliability, supply, and costs of transmission and power generation? What is the potential for Canadian hydroelectric power in replacing nuclear power as part of the region’s energy mix?

“These are important considerations that must be part of the EC4’s work in guiding our state toward our greenhouse gas emission goals. A decision by the Energy Facilities Siting Board on this proposed power plant before the EC4 develops its greenhouse gas reduction strategy is like the tail wagging the dog,” said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay.

Ultimately, and only after that strategy has been developed and adopted, the burden of proof that this proposed power plant meets the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Resilient R.I. Act lies with Invenergy and the Governor. Save The Bay has concluded that until the EC4 submits its greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy and this burden of proof met, it is premature for the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board to make any decision on the construction of Invenergy’s proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Rhode Island.

As we go to press, the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board has conducted public hearings and continues to evaluate economic, community and environmental factors as it prepares a recommendation to Governor Gina Raimondo. Stay tuned

Monday, January 23, 2017

For the Love of Sailing, Swimming, Surfing and All Things Water

By Jackie Carlson, membership and giving manager

Don and Meg Steiner are loyal donors who live primarily in Massachusetts, but also have an Aquidneck Island home overlooking the Bay. Don grew up on the New Jersey Shore and has always loved the ocean. He enjoys sailing, swimming, kayaking and surfing.

Neither Don nor Meg was raised in Rhode Island, but both have been visiting Narragansett Bay together for more than 30 years. They bought their Aquidneck Island home to be closer to the water and enjoy the great windsurfing along the shore.

“We are very fortunate to have a home on Aquidneck Island. Thanks to all of the hard work done by the terrific team at Save The Bay, we can enjoy sailing, swimming, fishing and many other activities on Rhode Island’s beautiful Narragansett Bay. We support Save The Bay and hope you will also.”

Like many in the Save The Bay community, Don and Meg appreciate the beautiful scenery the Bay has to offer. From reading a book on the beach to simply gazing at the full moon as it reflects off the Bay, they feel fortunate to experience the serenity of the Bay when they are in Rhode Island.

The Steiners were first introduced to Save The Bay when an acquaintance told them about the important work the non-profit was doing to fight the Hess LNG terminal proposal in the 2000s and improve water quality at Aquidneck Island beaches. Recognizing the importance of Save The Bay’s efforts, Don and Meg have been supporters ever since, hosting events to introduce others to the organization.

Don says that of all Save The Bay’s initiatives, from educating students to championing legislation, “The most important work is making people aware of actions necessary to restore the ecological balance. If we aren’t careful about pollution, it will have negative effects on the health of the Bay.” Don and Meg appreciate Save The Bay’s wise use of scarce resources and its effective advocacy to protect and improve Narragansett Bay.

Reflecting on their first visits to Rhode Island and Narraganset Bay, Don says he and Meg can see the positive changes in the Bay and are proud to be making a difference through their support of Save The Bay. They value the preservation of the health of Narragansett Bay for both residents and visitors alike, and so that future generations can enjoy the water activities that are so near and dear to their own hearts.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Volunteer Shoreline Cleanup Leaders Save The Bay

By July Lewis, volunteer coordinator

As Save The Bay works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, one of the most pervasive problems that we face is shoreline trash. This is an issue that everyone can agree on: litter does not belong on our shores or in the Bay. In 2016, we had 138 cleanups with over 3,500 volunteers who picked up 30,000 lbs of trash. This includes our organization of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) in Rhode Island. At this global cleanup event, volunteers pick up trash and record what they find. We have just released a report of our 2016 results, including 2,205 volunteers who picked up 13,475 plastic pieces, 10,583 food wrappers, and 46,574 cigarette butts.

Save The Bay cannot offer a program of this magnitude with staff leadership alone. In large part, the success of this program is due to our team of volunteer Shoreline Cleanup Leaders. People love to sign up for cleanups, and our ability to offer them is only limited by the number of leaders we have. The work is simple, but essential: the leader schedules the cleanup with Save The Bay, picks up a supply kit (provided by Save The Bay), arrives at the cleanup site 30 minutes before the cleanup, distributes supplies (bags, gloves, etc.) and gives the welcome and instructions. The leader then sends people off to clean, weighs trash as it comes back in, thanks all the volunteers for their efforts, makes sure all the trash is gathered at the appropriate site for pickup, and returns the kit and waivers to Save The Bay.

While cleanup leaders are very helpful in covering lots of shoreline in big events like the ICC, one of the most important roles that volunteer cleanup leaders can fill is motivating their community around keeping a particular site clean. There are many places around the coast – small beaches, boat launches and fishing areas – where there is entrenched littering. People who use the site have acquired the idea that it is OK to leave their trash on the ground. These are local, neighborhood sites where there is no paid staff to clean, and the dirty shoreline attracts more littering. Lasting change is best achieved by leadership from the neighborhood itself. A volunteer Cleanup Leader can reach out to their neighbors and friends directly to get them involved. Once a neighborhood starts to take pride in a site, people are more motivated not only to refrain from littering, but to take a bag with them and pick up some litter when they visit. Repeated cleanups keep the site looking good, and over time, the problem site is not such a problem anymore.

On Saturday, March 11, Save The Bay will hold a shoreline cleanup leader training. Participants will learn how to plan and lead a cleanup. To complete their training, they will have the opportunity to sign up as an assistant leader for an Earth Day cleanup in order to put their new skills into practice. If you care about clean coasts and are not shy about giving the “welcome speech” to a group, please consider attending! Become a community leader, and help us harness the great enthusiasm that people have for keeping their shores clean.

Saturday, March 11 at 10 -11:30 am
100 Save The Bay Drive, Providence, RI
Open to ages 12+. Cleanup leaders under the age of 18 must co-lead with a parent or guardian


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Evolution: From camper to counselor to intern to marine biologist

By Bridget Kubis Prescott, director of education

When we talk about inspiring the next generation of Bay stewards here at Save The Bay, we mean helping today’s youth understand the importance of a healthy Narragansett Bay, so they’ll take action to protect it throughout their lives, or stand up against action that will harm it. For some students, that means not littering, picking up their pet’s waste and being thoughtful about what goes down their local storm drain. For others, it means developing a passion for environmental causes as part of a larger community. And for Gabriela “Gabby” Morais, it means all of that, plus studying marine biology in college and becoming an inspiration for the generation of Bay stewards that comes after her.

As a student in the AP Environmental Science class at Central Falls High School, Gabby participated in our Narragansett Bay Field Studies program for a year. Save The Bay developed this hands-on, field-based program in collaboration with Central Falls teachers in 2003, and it’s been an integral part of their curriculum ever since.

In the program, students visit Lonsdale Marsh with Save The Bay educators almost weekly during the school year to study the health of that ecosystem. The students are split into small groups that become experts in such environmental health indicators as water quality, macro-invertebrates, vegetation and human impacts. They collect data in the field and bring it back to the classroom to be organized and analyzed, developing leading questions from their data and observations. These questions lead the students to investigate real-world problems in their own communities and to develop possible solutions. At the end of the year, they come together at an ecosystem summit to answer the question — How healthy is your local environment? — and to present ideas on how they can make their community environment better.

The program leads to a week-long summer academy in which these same students continue their learning out on Narragansett Bay, and, thanks to funding from Textron, a paid internship for one promising student. In this first year of the Textron-sponsored internship, that student was Gabby. During her internship with us, Gabby served as a counselor-teacher with our Providence Afterschool Alliance Summer Scholars program and our Junior BayCamp.

Calling her experience “eye opening,” Gabby said, “I really appreciate what my teachers do every day a lot more now because of this internship.” And like many teachers, she found herself in the perfect position to mentor students who needed a little extra help. One middle-schooler in the month-long Providence After School Alliance program was particularly disinterested and distracting to other students. He thought the program was “lame and boring,” Gabby said. Because they came from similar backgrounds and experiences, she felt like she “could help guide him in the right direction and encourage him to try new things” with her experience from the school-year program and her extreme love of the marine environment.

Over the next few days, as these students discovered Narragansett Bay on one of our education vessels, visited Colt State Park, Conimicut Point, and Easton’s Beach and built their own boats, Gabby’s young mentee became really excited about everything. She described his transformation as “incredible to witness” because she had helped make it happen.

One of Gabby’s favorite memories is “seeing the smiles on each and every single one of these kids in our camp. I say this because no matter how much redirection we gave them or the troubled times they might go through, these kids really do put their whole entire heart into this camp. And to me it demonstrated that I am helping the Save The Bay educators do a really super awesome job educating these kids about our Bay.” Or as we like to call it here at Save The Bay — inspiring the next generation of Bay stewards.

The icing on the cake is that Gabby now wants to be a marine biologist. So when it comes to inspiring this future Bay steward … mission accomplished.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cool and Crazy Fish - Save The Bay Podcast #13

January's theme at the Exploration Center and Aquarium is "Cool and Crazy Fish."

Register for Feeding Frenzy -
Book your Seal Tour -

Monday, January 2, 2017

Putting Up Walls: How Climate Change and Hardened Shorelines Erode Public Access

By Tom Kutcher, Former Narragansett BayKeeper

The Rhode Island State Constitution guarantees public lateral access along the shore.

A fisherman uses the beach that persists seaward of the 

Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island. As the bluffs erode, 
they contribute their sediments to the beach; this provides 
miles of lateral access along the shore. Photo: David Prescott
That means everyone has the right to walk along or below the high tide zone, anywhere in the state, to fish, swim, gather seaweed, and otherwise work or recreate in the water or at the shore. It means that waterfront property owners can’t kick you off the lower part of the beach in front of their houses or impede passage across it. In theory, you should be able to walk from Providence to Point Judith, or from Pawtucket to the Mount Hope Bridge, along the edge of the Bay without getting your knees wet (save for crossing a few rivers and numerous creeks on either side). But, anyone who has spent any time along the shores of Rhode Island knows this is a theory that can’t be put into practice.

A Hardened Shoreline and Rising Tides

Over the past 300 years, we have managed to harden more than half the shoreline along Narragansett Bay with bulkheads, retaining walls, piers, roads, and other permanent structures, many of which are built well into water deep enough to wet even my elevated knees. Through the years, private and public interests have impeded our right to walk along much of the shore in every Rhode Island coastal city and town. In the 1970’s, the Coastal Resources Management Council enacted regulations that either prohibit building structures into the water or limit shoreline hardening to cases where hardship is demonstrated. But pressure to harden shorelines has been ramping up lately.

A popular surf fishing and surfing stretch of beach in Matunuck, showing (1) 

a scoured and collapsed rip-rap wall (foreground) that impedes 
lateral access to an adjoining public beach at all tides, (2) 
extensive erosion of the bluff beneath the Ocean Mist bar, 
which now impedes lateral access at high tide, and (3) a 
retaining wall built and maintained to protect a residential property, 
which impedes lateral access from public parking at all tides.
That’s because climate change, along with resulting increases in coastal storms, erosion and sea levels, threatens roadways, homes, and businesses that were built close to the water. As homeowners, business owners, and municipalities react by building hardened structures, your right to pass along the shore comes into conflict with their efforts to literally fight against the tide. The surfcaster who has been fishing a stretch of beach his entire life comes into conflict with a waterfront property owner trying to save her front lawn, and the swimmer comes into conflict with the seawall erected to protect a road. 

Preserving Both Access and Shoreline
Without shoreline hardening, most non-bedrock shorelines can maintain a beach face capable of supporting the lateral access our state constitution gives us. Even steep bluffs deposit sediments to the beach face as they erode (think Block Island Bluffs, pictured). In our efforts to preserve coastal properties with walls and other hard structure, we inadvertently cause the beach to inevitably disappear. Hardened structures do not deposit sediments to the beach. Instead, they reflect erosive energy back toward the sea, dragging sediments to deeper water. Sediments that do remain seaward of hardened structures may eventually be submerged as sea levels are predicted to rise several feet by the end of this century.

Save The Bay is dedicated to working with CRMC, municipalities, legislators, businesses, and homeowners to find solutions to these present and increasing conflicts between public access and property. Our priority is to ensure that lateral access and other functions of natural shorelines are preserved in perpetuity

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Making the Hard Decisions - CoastKeeper Blog

By Dave Prescott, South County CoastKeeper

Beaches are dynamic coastal systems that are always moving and constantly shifting. As sea levels continue to rise, we see more and more coastal impacts that threaten homes, businesses, and infrastructure (such as roads, septic systems, and utilities), as well as invaluable coastal habitats (such as salt marshes). The onslaught of more intense coastal storms continues to batter our coast leaving many to question their future along the shore. It’s much easier to blame coastal erosion for the loss of our beaches rather than question why we decided to build so close to the shoreline in the first place.

What can we do about sea level rise and coastal storms and surge? The Army Corps of Engineers recently developed a plan to elevate 341 homes along the southern coast of Rhode Island from Westerly to Narragansett. While other options were evaluated, in the end, the Corps decided upon elevation as the best decision for the region.

In Save The Bay’s opinion, this study was heavily flawed. Not only did the study rely on low (or historic) rates of sea level rise, it failed to take into the account the real costs of upgrading and replacing infrastructure which is necessary for the survival of these coastal communities. An elevated structure does no good if you cannot access the property because the road is constantly flooded. In addition, it did not adequately consider the option of retreat.

One of the hardest decisions we are forced to make along the coast is what are the next steps? Too often we look to the short term. We elevate structures. We spend millions of dollars to put sand back onto the beach, only to lose it offshore or to the breachways and salt ponds. We build (or rebuild) seawalls to try to hold back Mother Nature. We subsidize coastal development over and over again.

Now is the time we should be looking to the long-term. While these decisions can be much harder for a community to swallow, in the long run they truly do make our coastal communities more resilient in light of current and future climate change impacts.

Managed retreat through acquisition, buyout programs, and relocation is often a hard pill for many to swallow – including the communities. However, when you look at all of the infrastructure that supports these homes and businesses (roads, emergency services, utilities, septic systems and wells), the communities just do not have the financial capacity to be able to elevate and upgrade all threatened structures and provide the support that taxpayers expect. The same is true on the state and federal level. There is just not enough money in any of the coffers to be able to support these coastal communities indefinitely when we are already witnessing the impacts higher sea levels, and more devastating coastal storms, have on our way of life. Through retreat, we allow our beaches to migrate naturally, unimpeded by man-made structures and walls.

Now is the time for us to evaluate where we should be elevating structures and where we need to retreat away from the coast. Politically speaking, managed retreat can be very unpopular. However, we need the political will from the state and our local representatives to start moving that ball forward and looking to the future. We need to start making these hard decisions now and develop the best long-term solutions for our coast. Our beaches will always be here…the question is will we let them?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mixed Messages about Climate Change

By Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy

As you might expect, the 2016 national election sent shockwaves through the environmental advocacy world. The President-elect’s mixed messages about climate change and nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with Speaker Paul Ryan’s November 9 remarks about taking aim at the Clean Water Act and its ‘job-killing’ regulations sent chills down my spine and set off alarm bells in my head.

What can I do? What can we do? You may have asked yourself these questions more than once since Election Day. I was asked these questions during a recent television interview. My response then, and now, is: the responsibility for our local environment belongs to us locally. We can't, and shouldn't, be overreliant on the federal government. We all must now double our efforts to protect the amazing gains we've achieved in improving Narragansett Bay and safeguarding our land, water and air for nearly 50 years. 

I like to celebrate our success transforming Narragansett Bay from an open sewer to a spectacular water body that defines our sense of place and evokes pride among the people who live here. Look at the Providence River, from spring to fall, and you will see hundreds of people fishing from boats and from the shoreline.This view was unthinkable just a generation ago. We are, however, far from done, and we must deal with the immediate threats, those we can actually do something about: enforcing the environmental laws on the books right now; finally tackling the age-old problem of polluted run-off, which still impairs our waters and causes swimming beach closures; and, the big one, dealing with the immediate threats of sea level rise, coastal erosion and the loss of our Bay’s precious salt marshes.  

If anything, the election renewed my sense of urgency to protect Narragansett Bay. I will count on our congressional delegation to hold the fort in Washington, from the EPA nominee’s confirmation hearings to protecting the Clean Water Act and the many programs that have been the foundation for our reclamation of Narragansett Bay. But I will also ask you to join me in affirming our commitment take care of things at home. That is the best thing we can do, right now.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Many Ways to Save the Bay

By Gabriela Dinobile, Volunteer Intern

For Jackie and Marty Metzger, volunteering for Save The Bay is a commitment that helps our environment and satisfies their love for nature and the ocean.

After Jackie retired from a career as a clinical laboratory scientist and manager of a cancer center in 2014, she saw that Save The Bay was advertising for office volunteers. She already knew much about the organization; after all, she said, “I think everyone in Rhode Island knows about Save The Bay!” So she signed up and has been a welcome member of the office team ever since, visiting weekly to enter volunteer information into the database and manage seal monitoring data.

Jackie and Marty Metzger
Not long after she began helping, Jackie also became interested in the idea of volunteering outside the office, leading a shoreline cleanup. Her first was an International Coastal Cleanup at Bold Point in East Providence; she liked it so much that she’s become a regular Bold Point cleanup leader. Along the way, Jackie also recruited her husband, Marty, a retired prosthodontist, as a volunteer photographer for the cleanups. Marty’s beautiful photos can be found on Save The Bay’s Flickr page and have been published in the Rhode Island International Coastal Cleanup report.

In August, the two volunteered together at the Save The Bay Swim for the first time — Marty as a photographer and Jackie handing out water to swimmers at the finish line. The Swim is Save The Bay’s largest annual fundraising event, and both Jackie and Marty had only positive things to say about their experience. Marty enjoyed the chance to converse with the other photographers at the event, while Jackie appreciated the sense of pride the swimmers exuded at the finish line in Jamestown.

The Metzgers agree that Save The Bay has immensely improved both the environment and community in Rhode Island over the years. They marvel at how much the organization has grown, and how Rhode Islanders can both give and take from Save The Bay through volunteering and using its educational facilities.

“It’s really gratifying to see how much [Save The Bay] has accomplished, how the bay has gotten cleaner and how much more aware people are of Save The Bay and its work,” said Jackie. “We used to take our son on Save The Bay cruises to learn about the bay, and it was very helpful to utilize the educational aspects of the organization. We hope to bring our grandson when he comes to visit from Tennessee.”

The connections they’ve made with Save The Bay staff and volunteers are what keep Jackie and Marty volunteering. In fact, Marty had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend and coworker through his volunteer work with Save The Bay. And the folks at Save The Bay think the Metzgers are making a wonderful contribution to the Save The Bay community. Many thanks to Jackie and Marty!