Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Perseverance Wins for Narragansett Bay

By Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy

Staying power. Determination. Patience. Impatience. That’s what it takes to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. As we reflect on nearly 50 years of advocacy, and prepare for the next 50 years, it is important to remember that some of the most important victories for Narragansett Bay have been achieved by taking the long view, and by persevering through the most difficult battles. Here are a few of the more memorable ones:

Quonset Mega-Port
In 2000, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Almond announced that the state would develop a global “load center” port at Quonset Point. The plan called for filling in 500 acres of Narragansett Bay by extending Quonset-Davisville, blasting a trench across the Bay to accommodate the world’s largest container vessels and disturbing highly-valued shellfishing grounds. Save The Bay called “time out!”
Working in coalition with North Kingstown residents, fishermen, shell fishermen, the Conservation Law Foundation, Sierra Club-RI and countless other allies, we convinced Governor Almond to carry out a stakeholder process that involved countless public meetings, hearings, and events over the next nearly five years to examine alternatives to the load center port. We mobilized citizens and members, engaged legislators who questioned the viability and wisdom of the “megaport” and were a constant presence in the media. We also overcame accusations of being “anti-job” and “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) by political leaders and the media outlets. In the end, the voice of the people who love Narragansett Bay prevailed.

The Habitat Trust Fund
The Rhode Island General Assembly passage in 2004 of the Rhode Island Habitat Restoration Trust Fund was the result of eight years of relentless advocacy by Save The Bay. The fund, passed by the leadership of Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (Newport) and House Environment Committee Chairman Jan Malik (Warren), generates $250,000 for projects through a five-cent-per-barrel fee on petroleum imported to Rhode Island ports, and has leveraged millions of dollars in federal, local and private funds for restoration efforts. Through sheer determination, we overcame strong opposition by the petroleum industry and by some legislative leaders who aimed to ‘punish’ Save The Bay for supporting a Separation of Powers amendment to the RI Constitution, which, in the end, barred legislators from sitting on, and making appointments to, quasi-public boards and commissions.

The Dredge Wars
Historically, the dredged material from marinas and yacht clubs was dumped in the most convenient locations, often nearby salt marshes. As a result, marshes in places like Allins Cove (Barrington) were choked with dredge material, their ecological functions as nurseries badly impaired. At other times, proposals were made to dump dredged spoils in other ecologically valuable places, such as the waters off Prudence Island that serve as lobster habitat. After a decade of fighting the “dredge wars,”
Save The Bay and the RI Marine Trades Association rolled up our sleeves and advocated for new state policy that now makes in-Bay dumping a last resort and the beneficial use of dredge material for landscaping and capping of contaminated sites the preferred option.

Saving Mount Hope Bay from Thermal and Sewage Pollution and an LNG Terminal
When Weaver’s Cove Energy LLC announced in 2011 that it was suspending its pursuit of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Mount Hope Bay, the company cited “unfavorable economic conditions” as its reason. But that’s just part of the story. The company had been aggressively pursuing the project for more than seven years, first on the shores of Fall River, Mass. and then smack in the middle of Mount Hope Bay itself. In fact, Weaver’s Cove was the third LNG proposal for Narragansett Bay that Save The Bay successfully defeated since the early 1970s. And it wasn’t the only time the ecological health of Mount Hope Bay was at stake. By the 1990s, the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Mass. had been using one billion gallons of Bay water per day to cool its generators, destroying the young winter flounder populations it drew into its intake pipe, and upsetting the ecosystem when it then ‘returned’ water to Mount Hope Bay at up to 95 degrees.

Joining with and mobilizing citizen groups, municipal governments, marine trades organizations, fishermen, lobstermen, chambers of commerce and many individuals, Save The Bay has repeatedly and staunchly defended Mount Hope Bay through grassroots, media, legislative and legal advocacy. The community dug its heals in and won again the LNG proposal. A new EPA permit required major changes in the power plant’s cooling operations. And the City of Fall River, Mass. embarked on a project to dramatically reduce raw sewage overflows to Mount Hope Bay, which had caused the closure of shellfish beds in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island waters. For nearly 50 years, we have worked to prevent the over-industrialization of Narragansett Bay, preserving the delicate balance of uses that makes Narragansett Bay so unique and championing its restoration. Today, Mount Hope Bay has turned the corner from decades of pollution, the Brayton Point power plant is operating with a new cooling system, and shellfish beds are open far more frequently than ever before.