Tuesday, August 9, 2016

So you want to fill the Bay? Think again. Our Quick Response and Victory

By Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy

When Save The Bay learned of ProvPort's plans to expand its operations by filling 31 acres of the Providence River, our team sprung into action quickly and decisively. We sent out a press release alerting the media - and Rhode Islanders - about the eleventh-hour move in the State House to set the plan in motion with a $20M bond referendum. The bond referendum asked voters to pay for Phase I of that ProvPort's expansion plan: the purchase of land along the Providence River. Within a week’s time of our alert, ProvPort clearly and unequivocally declared it was abandoning Phases 2 and 3 of their plan, which called for filling 31 acres of the River.

I’ve been working for Save The Bay and defending Narragansett Bay for more than 20 years. Our quick response and victory on this “jack-in-the-box” proposal reminded me of why Save The Bay exists and of the never-ending urgency of our work to protect and improve the Bay. Our role in the reclamation of Narragansett Bay has been, and always will be, to be the citizen’s voice for the Bay. Or, as our former executive director Trudy Coxe once said, the “raspberry seed under the pallet.”

Every day, the Save The Bay team hears about “how much cleaner the Bay is than before.” And it's true, the reclamation of the Bay is a great success story, one that the people of Rhode Island and Massachusetts are rightfully proud of. However, success can also lead to complacency, and that is my major worry these days. For nearly 50 years, we’ve built the political will to fix glaring pollution problems – the raw sewage overflows and industrial pollution that used to foul the Bay on a daily basis. While the water is cleaner and clearer than it has been in decades, we are facing two major threats that are, in some ways, more challenging than our past battles: 1) pollution from the stormwater that hits our streets and runs directly our waters, and 2) climate change impacts.

Stormwater pollution is complex. We all own it. Wet weather still causes local beach closures throughout the Bay. Climate change is even more complex, and we are struggling every day to deal with its impacts. Our salt marshes are drowning under the weight of sea level rise. Our team has moved from salt marsh restoration to helping salt marshes adapt to rapidly changing conditions. The wastewater treatment plants that are essential to the Bay’s health are vulnerable to flooding, storm surge, sea level rise – look no further than the City of Warwick’s plant that was ten feet under water during the 2010 floods. Our shorelines are moving and eroding, challenging us us to protect public access to the shore. Warming waters are altering the ecology of the Bay.

This is tough stuff. These current and future threats make our mission more urgent than ever. I love the passion of the staff, board and volunteers of Save The Bay. We’ve been the voice for Narragansett Bay for nearly 50 years. And now these more complex threats demand that we all step up our game to protect our beloved Bay for the next 50 years.