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Community Perspectives

Allin's Cove - Common Fence Point - Duck Cove

Common Fence Point, Portsmouth
By Mil Kinsella-Sullivan

Click for a time-series progression of Common Fence Point restoration
Click photo for a time-series progression of Common Fence Point restoration.
Courtesy: F. Golet, URI Natural Resources Sciences
As a resident of a spit of densely populated land on the northernmost tip of Aquidneck Island, I became involved in the Neighborhood Improvement Association, aka Common Fence Point Improvement Association (CFPIA). I am a member of an all-volunteer organization that was left over 42 acres to manage for the good of the community. I have served the gamut of duties from dishwasher to president, and have recently been dubbed by the press as "The Marsh Queen." This is the story of how an ordinary citizen can affect habitat restoration.

Everyone has the capabilities to effect change. Although I lacked the formal training in salt marsh ecology, I had a belief that to restore a dead area to a thriving ecosystem, indeed to a spawning ground for many marine species, was the right thing to do. I was going in with blind passion and a plan, and was totally unprepared for the eight years of work ahead to get the project realized. It should be easier for you! Everyone lives in a community. Once you have identified an area that would benefit from restoration, organize that community. The CFPIA owns the 5.14 acres of restored salt marsh, but still there were ownership issues – abutters who need to be educated again and again. Despite holding meetings and drafting long progress reports to present to the community, there were those who, four years into the process, came out of the woodwork and said they objected. Some of them wouldn't sit down and talk to the engineers, who were willing to take the time to explain the plan and how it would NOT create a flooding situation. These objections in the permitting stages slowed the project, but did not damage its progress because, although their fears were real, they were based on emotion, not hard science. To effect change, one must endure much criticism. In our case, the five acres was filled in by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) back in the late 1940s when it was fashionable to take dredge from channels and fill in salt marshes. In 1990, the ACE was beginning to attempt to reverse the damages, and they embraced our efforts; they were Partner #2; Partner #1 was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As a result of the fill, the area that lies on Mt. Hope Bay, at the intersections of Common Fence Blvd., Attleboro, Berkeley, and RI Ave., had become nothing more than a mosquito-breeding habitat vegetated with 15-foot Phragmites vegetation, which doubled as a dumping ground and summer fire hazard.

The CFPIA had responded innumerous times to neighbors' requests for action, but the permitting agencies would allow none of them until we suggested restoring the site. A vigilant CFPIA Trustee, spied a program called Partners in Wildlife, that offered seed money for restoration projects through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Soon after, Trustee Sara Meade took a long sabbatical to Oregon – so long, in fact, that I spent the next eight years following up on her initial letter to the Department of the Interior. I had the initial meeting with that department in February of 1992. The restoration site was permitted in 1993; the actual digging didn't take place until 1996.
Salt pond excavation in 1996
Salt pond excavation in 1996
Courtesy: F. Golet, URI Natural Resources Sciences
Although our consulting CRMC biologists advised us to allow Mother Nature to reseed the two newly created salt ponds and fringe marsh areas, in 1997, Save The Bay helped us to organize an upland planting of bayberry and Rosa rugosa. Those plants are now four feet high and the marsh itself is in its fourth growing season. And growing it is. Saltwater never tasted so sweet as I checked to see if the newly created channel to the newly created salt ponds was working properly, that fall. The first sprig of Spartina in 1997 was a thrill. Even the first group of periwinkles was an uplifting sign. Sandpipers, egrets, and herons moved in rather soon after the bulldozers had ceased their seemingly endless digging. It cost $83,000 to remove 22,000 cubic yards of dredge material, truck it to a Tiverton landfill for reuse as capping material, and to recreate the contours of a living ecosystem. That is about $20,000 per acre, without the need for pressure sensitive equipment. Aside from gathering consensus, the dredge and the funding were the biggest obstacles to hurdle.

Partners – another key to success! LOTS of partners and we were blessed with an abundance of wonderful, enthusiastic, hardworking partners, who lent their expertise to our fledgling project with the greatest of care. Our funders were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Town of Portsmouth, and Save The Bay. The individual team members who were instrumental in the restoration's success through services provided were Greg Mannesto, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; George Christie, Vector Control and Donna Barker, Finance Director, both from the Town of Portsmouth; Scott Millar, DEM Department of Environmental Coordination, Al Gettman, State Mosquito Abatement; University of Rhode Island's (URI) Frank Golet and Dennis Myshrall, who provided technical support and monitoring; and Andy Lipsky and Wenley Ferguson from Save The Bay who helped us keep our morale up when the going got rough. All of our partners embraced the project and through their support and encouragement brought it to its fruition. And what was I doing all those years? Basically just making sure that the left hand knew what the right hand was doing and keeping everyone apprised. If the Common Fence Point Improvement Association can do it, starting from ground zero, so can you!!

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