Phragmites removal in Buckeye Brook to cost about $825K

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The issue of invasive weeds known as phragmites causing blockages that lead to flooding and other environmental concerns in and around Warwick Pond and its tributary, Buckeye Brook, has been ongoing in earnest since 2016, and some voiced concerns even before then.

Today, pending a permit approval from the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM), an action plan to deal with the phragmites is gearing up to handle the issue, but not everyone agrees about whether that plan will work in the long term.

At the Warwick City Council meeting on Monday Ashlee Tyce, professional engineer for EA Engineering, Science, and Technology, Inc. – which has been a contracted consultant for the city regarding the issue for the past two and a half years – spoke about the problem at hand and the engineering firm’s progress in tackling it.

Tyce said that studies have confirmed water levels in the pond have been on the rise and that fish passage from Buckeye Brook into the pond have been continually decreasing year to year, and that the culprit is indeed a common species of phragmites that is notorious for being incredibly fast-growing, far-reaching and extremely difficult to get rid of in a lasting way.

The increased water levels have resulted in flooding and erosion issues around the pond, most notably on properties along Lakeshore Drive that have plagued residents and required remediation attempts from the city, which has included raising the level of the road up to a whole foot in certain places.

Tyce then broke down the plan they look to initiate in order to remove a 1.5-acre block of phragmites, which she says their studies indicate should lower the water levels enough through promoting increased water flow velocity to prevent flooding, which should also help encourage healthier fish runs as they would no longer be obstructed by a large field of invasive weeds.

To do this, the project must be approved by DEM in order to make alterations to a wetland, which has among the most stringent permit requirements in the state. Tyce said that the permit is under active review from DEM, and that she is hopeful they will receive approval by April 1. Once that happens, a 30-day notice for public comments commences.

If there are no additional significant concerns raised, the city could go out to bid for contractors to do the actual work – which Tyce said could commence as early as August 30 and conclude as early as October. She estimated the work in total would cost in the range of $825,000. EA Engineering would oversee the work, but the city would be in charge of choosing a contractor and paying them.

“This is an engineering cost estimate, but we have done our due diligence,” Tyce said.

Getting into the weeds

If the process seems relatively straightforward, that is because the true complexity in this issue lies beneath the surface, much like the stingy root systems of the phragmites themselves, which are so hardy that they require treatment with targeted herbicides, physical removal of their entire root mass, containment and specialized disposal, as well as follow-up treatments with more herbicides in the area of removal – all to ensure that they don’t simply spread their seeds and grow back just as quickly.

The biggest issue of contention regarding the phragmites removal is who should be bearing the cost of remediation. The land in question is owned by the state, not the city. However, it is also part of T.F. Green’s property, which is operated by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC). There was speculation that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation could bear responsibility for a portion of the area, but others have cited law that disputes that claim.

The plan outlined in the paragraphs above would be paid for using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding that was acquired through disaster relief funding received by the city following the 2010 floods. Of the $2.7 million awarded through that funding, about $950,000 remains – according to Bill Facente of the city’s community development office – and with the estimated $825,000 price tag for the project, it would eat up most of the remaining funds.

Michael Zarum, president and chairman of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, a state-designated Watershed Council that seeks to protect and preserve the health of the brook and its watershed, says that the state should be on the hook to do more since the phragmites to be removed reside on state property.

“The property owner should step up to the plate and be responsible,” he said.

Zarum also warned that the plan lacks a comprehensive, long-term plan to address the likelihood that the phragmites will grow back.

However, Tyce mentioned during her presentation that EA has requested a five-year maintenance plan along with the permit for the initial removal that would allow the re-spraying of herbicide as needed, with the possibility to extend that plan for longer.

She said that re-applying herbicide ran in the range of around $15,000 – “a tiny portion of the initial construction project” – and that the airport and Federal Aviation Administration has a stake in keeping the phragmites from growing back as well, since they have five light towers to maintain and that they have already expressed concern about flooding issues at the base of the towers.

“That’s not a guarantee but something to think about,” Tyce said, referring to a possibility that the city could receive some form of federal funding due to that fact.

Zarum said that the follow-up treatments couldn’t be simply an afterthought but needed to be incorporated as part of a three-to-four-year program of removal. He said that, although he is not opposed the project currently under review, he believes a much larger scope is necessary to address all the issues caused by phragmites in Buckeye Brook.

“They should be doing a comprehensive stream restoration program, which should include hydrology, restoration of habitat, restoration of fish habitat and fish run and it should include a restoration of the recreational values that were lost, which means basically to restore the stream back to where it was before the phragmites came in,” he said. “They're going to spend a million dollars and the project will fail. They'll be right back in 2022 where they were in 2015.”

Zarum urged that even if DEM approves the permit for the work, it only means that the agency is satisfied it will not do additional harm to the environment.

“I want to be very clear that is DEM comes out and approves a permit, they're not approving that they think this proposal is going to work,” he said during public comments at the council meeting.

City Council President Steve Merolla pointed a finger at RIAC as the entity to blame for the buildup of fertile sediment that has expedited phragmites growth, and that they are the entity that should share some burden of responsibility for helping address the issue.

“I just see airport, airport, airport written all over this. When you say sediment and 'Where is the sediment coming from?' we know where the sediment is coming from. Because they changed the flows. They built fields. They tied into the drainage system,” Merolla said. “Here's another bill that we're expected to pay.”

When asked about the possibilities of the phragmites simply growing back, Tyce reiterated that she believed EA is going about the removal process in the most professional and effective way possible.

“The removal of the root wad for phragmites will significantly decrease its reoccurrence but it will not eliminate it. We are not removing phragmites along the entire length of the brook, but it will certainly decrease. We're not disposing of the phragmites on site or nearby, we're taking it offsite and isolating it on the construction site and covering it so the seeds can't be blown around and re-populate elsewhere,” she said.

“We're using all best management practices in the disposal of this invasive,” she continued. “We're treating it very seriously even though it is a common problem.”

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richard corrente

The problem is worsened by the fact that many homeowners abutting Warwick Pond have lost some or all of their backyards to this problem. In years past (the 90's) the Warwick DPW would go in and bulldoze the phragmites out. Then, Avedisian got together with the DEM people and that practice came to an end. Maybe the Solomon administration can renew it. It would be a major savings to the taxpayers, in my opinion. We have the equipment to do it according to past DPW head David Picozzi, and we have the people still in that department with the knowhow.

I am a proud member of Friends Of Warwick Ponds (FOWP). We talk about this problem at every meeting. I wish we could celebrate the solution. Maybe soon. Maybe.

Happy St. Patricks everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, February 28
Richard Langseth

Warwick has 33 miles of shoreline and God knows how many miles of upstream locations subject to phragmites strangling. On Greenwich Bay there are at least ten locations where this is a problem. Now the city wants to spend $825,000 on one small site on Buckeye Brook to pull the phragmites with absolutely no plan to maintain the location afterward. If you don't maintain the site, the phragmites will come right back. And there will be another bill for even more than $825,000. This is going to cost millions and then other groups will show up with phragmites problems of their own. Pretty soon half the of the City budget will be to pull phragmites.

Mr. Corrente "the Taxpayers Mayor" points out that in the old days you just pointed the bulldozer at it. But he does not tell you that heavy equipment has sunk almost out of sight in that swamp. He should be more interested in the long tail of maintenance cost associated with this project and less with spending taxpayer money to protect waterfront property of more-wealthy-than-some Warwick taxpayers.

Thursday, February 28
richard corrente

Dear Richard Langseth,

As a longtime and proud member of Friends Of Warwick Ponds, I have sat in on many Phragmite meetings, and I believe that the process being considered is a multi-step one to reduce the recurrence. I was unaware that any equipment was lost in the past, but I could be wrong. My focus has been on the people abutting Warwick Pond. Those waterfront homeowners have lost much or ALL of their backyards to the rising water that has been caused by the choking Phragmites. It is this location that I feel can be easily reversed if Warwick is allowed to use our own equipment and our own DPW staff that are already being paid. Therefore it would not be an additional cost to the taxpayers, or at worst, a very minimal one.

Happy St. Patricks Richard.

Happy St. Patricks everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, March 1
Michael Zarum., Warwick Resident

Dear Mr Corrente:

I appreciate your comments, however what you wrote clearly shows the public that you do not sufficiently understand the science, engineering, and legal issues for properly resolving watershed issues.

Yourself, as a resident, former mayoral candidate, and claimed supporter of an organization that is not registered withe the Secretary of Stare, and has no IRS tax status, and made false claims to the Warwick City Council to obtain public funds, you mean well in your comments, Unfortunately, your focus has been to verbally support an organization which mainly focuses on watershed improvements to home parcels, rather than to support he comprehensive watershed approach that professionals typically take.

It's also been pointed out to me that your focus of support for a neighborhood group is mainly to better yourself for political reasons, and while I can understand and appreciate that, you don't appear to be a supporter of the entire watershed's health or requirements of the City Comprehensive Plan or State Guide Plan Water Quality Elements,

You also stated several items that are not accurate. That's a nice way for me to tell you that you are misinforming and misleading the public.

Your wrote that "The problem is worsened by the fact that many homeowners abutting Warwick Pond have lost some or all of their backyards to this problem. Please back up your claim of where people have lost "ALL of their backyards" by your providing evidence of your statement by providing plat and lot numbers where your claimed loss exists, because to the best of my knowledge, that doesn't exist. You're exaggerating.

You're exaggerating just like your associates did when they distributed a photo of a neighbor's shed being close to the pond water's edge, claiming there was an emergency and potential to lose their shed to flooding, when a fact check with government records revealed the truth that said shed was built illegally, not meeting required set backs from the water's edge, where had they complied with zoning regulations, their shed would not have been built and placed illegally too close to the waters edge..

I agree that water levels are now higher than they have been, and that during peak storms the water starts to flow beyond the historical pond / grass delineation. Some properly owners have appropriately planned for this knowing that they live in a FEMA flood plain that will experience flooding during peak storms, just like our weather forecasters warn the public of when such storms approach. Those who have properly dealt with this have a built small retaining walls at the waters edge to prevent yard erosion and prevent pond water from encroaching on their lawns. Such walls should be designed by a licensed structural professional to assure they accomplish their goal. The group that you support, was advised to form a Lake Management Association so that they could pursue such remedies and to my knowledge have not done that. I have also made city officials aware of actual communities where the municipality has built and maintains such a retaining wall, how they can be funded, and maintained.

Your statement "In years past (the 90's) the Warwick DPW would go in and bulldoze the phragmites out. Then, Avedisian got together with the DEM people and that practice came to an end. Maybe the Solomon administration can renew it. It would be a major savings to the taxpayers, in my opinion." Well, I know Mayor Solomon and I don't believe and hope he would not do what you suggest as it would be a violation of law. Again you are revealing that you don't understand the engineering, science, legal, or regulatory aspects that exist to protect both property and watershed. That you advocated for going in doing work illegally to save money, would trigger the city getting a Notice of Violation from regulators and would cost taxpayers more,. Rick Corrente, you advocated to do so something that is illegal. It would be illegal to do what you stated. While the city may have done what you stated in previous time periods, they are now aware of requirements, that it would be illegal to go in an bulldoze within a watershed without a regulatory review, That process is there to protect people and watersheds. Mr. Avedisian discontinuing that practice? It was discontinued because that practice is prohibited by law. Work in that watershed and the wetland is regulated under the State Freshwater Wetlands Act, as well as by regulations under EPA, US Army Corps of Engineers, RICRMC, RIDEM and more, I suggest that you familiarize yourself with those regulations before telling people what approach is the best solution,

i think that most people who are aware of the situation are in favor of a solution that works. We need to stock together on this. With that I thank you for supporting that something needs to be done. The city has had experts testify that a multi year program is needed for a solution to succeed, and they testified that they are only doing a one year program and it is a fact that they actually do not have the total funds to successfully complete the needed scope of work. As Mr. Langseth, Executive Director of the Greenwich Bay Watershed pointed out to you, financial concerns that the city absolutely does not have the funds to complete this project. I also testified to Warwick City Council that they need a contingent plan for dealing with toxic material removal related to the CERCLA Suoerfund Site in that area, (already managed by the State of Rhode Island as the stream restoration should too as it is on owned state land) ) and the fact that members in the City of Warwick, in my humble opinion, have not done their due diligence in that cost risk area, they say they have, however I don't agree that their proposed plan for toxic material will be allowed when toxic materials are dredged and regulatory control could go to a different agency finding the city is now responsible for additional costs which I know from experience, will cost millions of dollars to be paid for by the taxpayers you say you want to protect.

Please stop using these serious issues in our community for political reasons to promote yourself, and please open your mind a bit an attempt to get the facts straight and leave the solutions to professionals.

By the way, years ago RIAC and it's consultant invited me to a design review meeting where they were telling City Council members that their plan would alleviate flooding. I opined that their design would not alleviate flooding, and that in fact there would be continued flooding. I also took time to review RIAC's engineering calculations with hydrology engineering at RIDEM, who agreed me that the design would not alleviate flooding during certain high intensity storms. City Council Members failed to heed my advice to seek a design that would alleviate flooding. The higher than average water levels have multiple causal factors that need to be addressed. There is also a law that states who is to correct the problem, and it's not the City or Warwick or Warwick taxpayers, Mr. Langseth is correct in what he wrote..

Please try and get your facts correct before commenting, stop exaggerating and telling the public that some have lost ALL of their yard without showing evidence of such, and please support a comprehensive restoration as Mr. Hartley refers to in his well written article.

3

| Sunday, March 3
richard corrente

Dear Michael Zarum,

You couldn't be more wrong.

I have no political intentions. None. I am a concerned citizen that doesn't even live abutting Warwick Pond. I just care. Deal with it. If you can't then don't read my stuff. As far a proving the flooded backyards to you, who the hell do you think you are? I don't have to prove ANYTHING to you. You can, however, politely, contact Phil Dercole and politely request pictures. There are many. These homeowners are not the very wealthy you spoke against in your comment. They are innocent taxpayers that have legitimate damages that could have been avoided. I recommend that we go back and remove the phragmites LEGALLY. To suggest that I was considering doing it illegally is stupid Mike. Don't make comments that are stupid. One more thing. Don't accuse me of misinforming the public or promoting myself. I am stating my opinion. If you don't like that; if it bothers you in any way shape or form...GOOD! I'm not running for any office. Got that?

Happy St. Patricks everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Monday, March 4
Michael Zarum, Warwick Resident

Dear Mr. Corrente:

Thank you for your reply which even more so validates my previous comments factual.

In your above reply, you state you have no political intentions. Yet you signed your comments "Richard Corrente, The Taxpayer's Mayor" And you advocated for the city to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer's monies when there is a law that other parties are the one's responsible for the work that needs to be done in the watershed. That is not in the taxpayer's interest Rick.

You are advocating support for project where even the sponsor themselves testified that they do not have the fund to complete a successful project. You are advocating support for a project that the sponsor testified has to be multi-year to succeed, yet they are limiting their scope to less than one year. The sponsor testified that the actual scope is insufficient for a successful program. So you support wasting taxpayer money on a proposal that even the sponsor testified they are not doing the scope that is required for a successful project.

So you refuse to offer evidence of what you claimed. That's because you exaggerated. That's fine as I have multiple years of aerial images showing what is happening in the watershed. There is no emergency as your associates claim

Actually, your response shows your true nature. With that I'd just ask that you really try and undde

What is proposed is a band aid that will fail.

You should also know that I support a remedy that will work.

Dear Michael Zarum,

You couldn't be more wrong.

I have no political intentions. None. I am a concerned citizen that doesn't even live abutting Warwick Pond. I just care. Deal with it. If you can't then don't read my stuff. As far a proving the flooded backyards to you, who the hell do you think you are? I don't have to prove ANYTHING to you. You can, however, politely, contact Phil Dercole and politely request pictures. There are many. These homeowners are not the very wealthy you spoke against in your comment. They are innocent taxpayers that have legitimate damages that could have been avoided. I recommend that we go back and remove the phragmites LEGALLY. To suggest that I was considering doing it illegally is stupid Mike. Don't make comments that are stupid. One more thing. Don't accuse me of misinforming the public or promoting myself. I am stating my opinion. If you don't like that; if it bothers you in any way shape or form...GOOD! I'm not running for any office. Got that?

Happy St. Patricks everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

| Monday, March 4
Cat

And that is how it is done folks.

Michael Zarum, Warwick Resident - well done. Facts and research DO MATTER. For years, RC has been throwing out his "opinion" as fact. You easily proved the lack of any real evidence to support his claims.

Tuesday, March 5