Cove - Common Fence Point - Duck
Common Fence Point, Portsmouth
By Mil Kinsella-Sullivan
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.
|Click photo for a time-series progression
of Common Fence Point restoration.
Courtesy: F. Golet, URI Natural Resources
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.
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.
|Salt pond excavation in 1996
Courtesy: F. Golet, URI Natural Resources
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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Coastal Resources Management Council
Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
Save The Bay®