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No dredging near piers in Point Judit

09:51 AM EST on Monday, March 5, 2007
By Peter B. Lord
Journal Environment Writer

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Charter boat operators will not see any dredging around the state piers in Point Judith this winter, because so much garbage was dredged up recently around nearby piers used by commercial fishermen. The refuse outraged surfers and other beach users when it washed ashore in Matunuck during the last two months.

The state Department of Environmental Management sought permission last week to dredge another 9,000 cubic yards from the channel that leads past the charter boat docks to the Great Island Bridge.

But the Coastal Resources Management Council, which regulates dredging in Rhode Island, would only approve dredging some 2,000 yards from a “hump” on the north edge of the channel.

“There is likely to be debris near the docks,” said CRMC dredging coordinator Danni Goulet last week. He said he knows the area needs to be dredged, but he wants to try to figure out a way to do the job next winter without dispersing all the garbage that turned up last month at the commercial fishing piers.

The new work was proposed as an add-on to a far larger project that has been going on for the last two months, the dredging of 120,000 cubic yards of sand from the channels in the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge.

A contractor has been barging the sand out of the harbor and dumping it just offshore to the west in Matunuck to help replenish the badly eroded beaches. By all accounts, the replenishment worked — South Kingstown Town Beach and RoyCarpenter’s Beach have broadened significantly.

But everyone was surprised by unforeseen truckloads of debris that went ashore with the sands. CRMC and Army Corps of Engineers officials said the garbage was dredged up only in the areas adjacent to the commercial fishing piers.

Beer cans, rubber boots, gloves, rope, bits of treat timber and even used diesel fuel filters came ashore with the tides.

Individuals and members of the Rhode Island Surfrider Foundation responded with complaints and their own cleanup efforts. The dredge contractor also assigned workers who filled pickup trucks with debris.

More than 100 people attended a meeting with dredging officials last month to protest and find out how to stop more dumping of refuse.

Goulet said he’s worked in the Great Lakes and all along the East Coast and never seen so much garbage come from one confined location in a harbor.

Larry Mouradjian, an associate director at DEM, which operates the piers, said the DEM would try to create an educational campaign to encourage people using the piers to not throw their garbage in the water.

All the dredging has to stop by March 15 because migratory birds and fish will be arriving.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island and Save the Bay urged CRMC to do a better job next time.

David Prescott, chairman of the local Surfriders chapter, asked the officials to step up their efforts to remove the refuse from the dredge spoils. “Some of us are out there on a daily basis, and we’re concerned about old filet knives and other sharp metal,” he said.

CRMC chairman Michael Tikoian thanks the Surfriders for helping to clean and monitor the beaches.

CRMC staff estimates about 60,000 yards of sand have washed ashore, and another 30,000 may come ashore incoming weeks.