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Community Perspectives

Allin's Cove - Common Fence Point - Duck Cove

Duck Cove Marsh, North Kingstown
By Gidget Loomis

Upper Duck Cove Marsh
Upper Duck Cove Marsh
Courtesy: Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

I have lived on Duck Cove for the last eight years. Prior to that I lived on a nearby peninsula. All my life I have lived on or near the water and have been interested in many things saltwater oriented. Secondary education and Biology is my background. I have always believed in taking care of and respecting the Earth – conservation, recycling, and restoration.

Immediately upon moving here, it was obvious that Lower Duck Cove was a healthy, thriving marsh community with lots of egrets, herons, gulls, swans, ducks, etc. That first fall in came schools of bluefish. People occasionally dug for shellfish. The Upper Cove was almost dead by comparison. Few birds occupied the cove or the marsh. The Upper Cove marsh was probably two-thirds Phragmites and one-third Spartina. Several years later the pipe under the dividing causeway broke in half. The water supply for the Upper Cove went from inadequate to severely inadequate. The Upper Cove never fully filled or emptied. Year by year we could see the invasion of the Phragmites. Walking the marsh, there was an empty area of odd-looking mud flats. Most of the mosquito ditches were severely degraded.

The Beginnings of a Project
Realizing that something had to be done, I began the process by talking to my neighbors and several people on the opposite side of the Cove. All were supportive of undertaking some sort of restoration. They wanted their view back, and to decrease the fire hazard, as well as restore it biologically. From looking at old charts of Narragansett Bay, the causeway used to be just a peninsula, partly dividing the Cove. All we could learn was that the causeway was completed some time prior to the 1930s when Lone Tree Point was platted out of the big farm that was this entire area. As a group, the Duck Cove Bluffs Association and the Lone Tree Point Association decided to tackle the project. In reality it was still me doing all the work.

I started by sitting down with Dave Reis, a biologist with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). I knew enough that a CRMC permit would be required. He stated that we would need to document tide data and do an elevations study of the marsh and surrounding properties in order to model the site and then to simulate restoration scenarios.

Installing tide stakes to measure tidal range
Installing tide stakes
Courtesy: NRCS
An old sailing friend is a partner in Applied Science Association (ASA) of Narragansett. They do the current flow studies for oil spills and other such events. They came up and indicated where I should put tide stakes and how to install them. That done, I collected high and low tide data for about three months. When I gave them the data, they determined that they could not help me at all. Their computer programs could not deal with zero water depths or mud flats. The University of Rhode Island (URI) Cooperative Extension Service loaned me the chemicals and taught me how to test salinities. I collected data from several sites in varying conditions (high and low tides, after rainstorms, etc.).

At about the same time, Save The Bay announced their future plans to begin restoration projects on the Bay. When I called, they said they had not even hired anybody yet. Good luck to me. I basically called anyone and everyone, following all leads and suggestions.

Finding Resources
Eventually, Save The Bay hired Andy Lipsky as the habitat specialist. He was a great help. Save The Bay spearheaded a statewide marsh evaluation. I participated in that and learned a lot. Save The Bay gave us a $500 mini-grant for the project. We received a $2,000 construction grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Andy helped me write a RI Department of Environmental Management Aquafund grant. We received $19,000 for planning, design, and hiring a part time project manager. I had planned on hiring Kris Stuart for that job, but there was one catch. The grant would not give money to private individuals or groups. The Southern Rhode Island Conservation District (SRICD) stepped in and offered to be our bank, or to oversee the project, as they were taking on two smaller Aquafund projects. Kris got the SRICD job as project manager for all three projects.

Monitoring soil salinity
Monitoring soil salinity
Courtesy: NRCS
From there the project took off. Kris was able to utilize the resources and connections of the SRICD. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) came in to do the surveying. Additional tide studies were done, transects were installed, and data was collected on water and soil salinities. Al Gettman from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Mosquito Abatement joined the project. In addition to replacing the broken culvert, the marsh needed reditching. Both NRCS and Mosquito Abatement had grant money available that would fit the project. NRCS did the modeling of the existing data and then created several restoration alternatives. A joint meeting of the neighborhoods selected a 4-foot by 3-foot box culvert with drop boards. Kris later wrote and received another Aquafund grant for the construction. A Wickford Middle School teacher received a National Geographic grant for habitat studies. Every week last spring she brought a group of sixth graders down to collect tide water and soil salinity data. We are receiving a grant from the RI legislature to fund the required post-construction monitoring. We also applied for a Fish America grant but did not get it.

We started with the two neighborhood associations. Save the Bay and USFWS joined us. Then the SRICD and NRCS. DEM Mosquito Abatement and the town of North Kingston joined us later.

Save The Bay, SRICD, NRCS, and Al Gettman were all very helpful. Early on we gave informational presentations to both the North Kingstown Conservation Commission and Harbor Management Commission. Both were supportive. The North Kingstown Planning Department also became involved and was a valuable resource.

Initially, trying to get anywhere was a challenge. If we had not received the Aquafund grant and hired a project manager within an existing organization, we would still be years behind where we are now. Having a manager with the expertise as well as the backing of an organization like the SRICD made life much easier.

Broken culvert restricting tidal flow
Broken culvert restricting tidal flow
Courtesy: NRCS

A requirement for a CRMC permit is that the applicant show ownership of the property to be worked on. We could not. This was a sticky situation. Historically, when land was platted out in town and lots were sold, the remaining land (usually the roads) was left in limbo. It was neither sold nor donated. In similar situations, legally it became commonly owned by the neighborhood. The causeway not only did not have any lot number, it was not officially part of either plat on either side of the cove. Another wrench: since the area of the culvert was originally open water, did it belong to the state of RI, as public waters that had been filled? The town had made emergency repairs to the culvert after the 1954 hurricane, using Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) money. We could not document this at the ACE. Several town employees remembered the work, but could not find any documentation either. The town researched the land and declared that they did not own the land or want to own the land. But they would support the restoration project and would provide some in-kind services. The town of North Kingstown became a necessary third partner. CRMC was satisfied that there would be no ownership quarrels.

Developing Support for Habitat Restoration
Talking to the existing neighborhood associations was an easy first step. Getting the early support from CRMC staff gave the project credibility. Presenting the project to the town commissions gave us standing within the community. Save The Bay also was a great help in getting the word out. Our causeway impoundment is a classic marsh problem. Duck Cove became their poster child for marsh restoration. It was easy to see healthy marsh on one side and degraded marsh on the other.

The solution was simple for the public to understand. Duck Cove and nearby Bissel's Cove were sites of several Save The Bay press conferences and educational tours. For each event the press and local legislators were invited. North Kingstown Representatives Bensen and Carter added their support. Several feature articles appeared in the local papers along with coverage of the above events.

Several times I have testified at House Finance Committee hearings regarding the annually presented bill to create a Coastal Habitat Restoration fund. Again, we are a classic example of a little local project that could benefit from federal funding – if we could come up with matching money.

Attending statewide meetings, charrettes, etc. on coastal habitat restoration, and presenting posters has spread word of our project among the scientific community. I will talk to anybody about the project. Several high school students have interviewed me for projects. We take every opportunity to get the story into the press.

My individual work took one and a half years. Grant writing, waiting, doing the surveying, data collection, and engineering took another two and a half years. It took about six months to receive permits from CRMC, DEM (both Water Quality and Fish and Wildlife), and ACE. The application was also reviewed for historical significance.

Now we are waiting for the project to be put out to bid, estimated to take another six months. Phase I of the ditching will occur in April. Hopefully, construction of the culvert will take place within the next six to nine months. Phase II of the ditching is scheduled for next winter, and possibly perimeter ditching the following winter.

Monitoring and Follow-up
Pre-construction monitoring was essential. A baseline was needed for comparison of post-construction data to show effectiveness of both the culvert replacement and the ditching. Five transects (one control in a neighboring marsh) were created, each with three soil wells, and sites for plant identification, density, and height. Several tide stakes were installed for full tide cycle analysis. Photo sites were also established. Data was collected for a full growing season. We are required to do post- construction monitoring for five years. We have to submit annual reports to all the funding and permitting agencies.

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This site was created through a partnership of the:

Coastal Resources Management Council
Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
Save The Bay®