Save Bristol Harbor to study effects of harbor before work begins


Before the town constructs additional docks and moorings, many are questioning Bristol harbor's capacity and what effect those might have on its future.

Without data, however, it's hard to determine how many additional docks or moorings to add, or if the town should add any at all.

“We know that the north end of the harbor doesn’t flush well at all,” said Keith Maloney, vice president of Save Bristol Harbor. “We have 500 (moorings). Is that too many, or could we handle 1,000? We have no data we can use. We're going strictly from emotion.”

Helped by a $30,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, Save Bristol Harbor contracted with Christopher Kincaid, Ph.D., a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, to build a predictability model that will collect data on the ebb and flow of the harbor. The model is a computer program that can measure what effect physical changes could have on the environment within Bristol Harbor.

“We’re taking it down to a detailed, local level,” Mr. Maloney said. Save Bristol Harbor volunteers have been collecting their own data for the past four years, which will also be used in the model.

Variable information such as moorings, vessels, accidental spills and manmade obstructions to the natural tidal flow can be input into the model to reveal any impact it may have on the harbor, alongside data measuring water and wind movement.

“You put in a wave attenuator and the potential flow (disruption) could be significant,” Mr. Maloney said. “That’s the whole point of having this model. Then we can use the model to tell what will happen. Bristol has an interest and needs to know.”

A wave attenuator often accompanies dock placement, helping to dissipate the intensity of waves.

Save Bristol Harbor member, Bob Aldrich, has worked with students at Mt. Hope High School to restore marsh grasses in Silver Creek and will use the predictability model in educating both town officials and students as to how a variety of conditions can impact the environment.

“The fluid dynamics is very complex,” Mr. Aldrich said. “People look at it and say ‘the tide comes in and the tide goes out’. It doesn’t really work that way.”

Understanding that wind has more of an effect on the surface, and tide effects movement beneath the water, the discussion of placing a wave attenuator in the harbor was a great concern to Save Bristol Harbor.

The efforts of Save Bristol Harbor to produce the model have been encouraged by the town and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management. For the next 60 days, six wind meters placed at strategic points around the harbor will collect data to gauge wind speed, direction and sustainability to be used in the computer model.

Within the next two months, it is expected that Mr. Kincaid will have the model “substantially complete,” Mr. Maloney said, and they will present it to the Rhode Island Foundation.

“It’ll be ready to run,” he said, looking forward to demonstrating the model to town officials.

Once complete, Mr. Maloney said, it will be made available to surrounding communities that may also find value in the information it provides.

Moving forward with the town’s plan to enhance the harbor with docks and mooring space for Bristol and transient boaters, the town is currently in the process of selecting an engineering firm to design the project, said Bristol’s director of community planning, Diane Williamson.

Recognizing the concerns of Save Bristol Harbor and the efforts they’ve put forth to develop a predictability model, Ms. Williamson said that she expects some discussion will focus on what the model reveals.

“It’s something that I thought of,” she said. “There will be questions when the public comment period comes.”

Currently there is no definitive plan or timeline for adding docks and moorings, and other projects are also up for consideration, Ms. Williamson said.

“We’ve got to sit down and prioritize,” she said.


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