DEM: Barrington failed to comply with pond permit

State says town should have submitted revised plan before clearing out phragmites

By Josh Bickford
Posted 12/6/19

DEM recently determined that Barrington officials failed to comply with the permit they had to remove invasive weeds from Kent Street Pond.

A Nov. 25 letter from Rhode Island Department of …

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DEM: Barrington failed to comply with pond permit

State says town should have submitted revised plan before clearing out phragmites

Posted

DEM recently determined that Barrington officials failed to comply with the permit they had to remove invasive weeds from Kent Street Pond.

A Nov. 25 letter from Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Office of Compliance and Inspection stated that there were two conditions of the permit that Barrington officials did not follow during the Kent Street Pond project, which took place earlier this fall.

The first problem, wrote DEM administrator David Chopy, was that Barrington officials did not "limit their work to the areas shown in the plan" that had been approved by DEM as part of the town's application. 

The second was that the town did not perform the work with a small farm tractor as it had specified in the application.

During DEM's investigation into the pond dredging, a Barrington official had explained that during the time that had passed from when the town's plan was approved and when the work started, more phragmites had spread across the pond. That spread — officials estimated that 90 percent of the pond was covered with phragmites — resulted in a slightly different approach to the work.  

On Monday, Sept. 23, a contractor hired by the town worked alongside a crew from the DPW to dredge Kent Street Pond. The workers — using a large excavator and not a small farm tractor — dug out all the vegetation that once filled the pond, leaving a shallow, muddy reservoir. Barrington DPW Director Alan Corvi estimated that the DPW hauled about 40 truckloads — each load measuring about six cubic yards of mud and weeds — from Kent Street Pond to the compost piles at Walker Farm.

"The phragmites were killing that pond," said Mr. Corvi, during an earlier interview.

However, some residents voiced concerns about the project's impact on the pond's ecology.

Mohamed Freij, who lives near Kent Street Pond, was critical of the town's project. In an email to town officials, he wrote: "The way to deal with this issue is to trim the phragmites below the ice level every fall by town employees to avoid having to waste taxpayers' money on a private contractor with a 40-ton machine and to avoid the environmental damage." He added that the project had killed and injured many frogs that had lived in the pond.

DEM officials agreed with Mr. Freij.

In his letter to the town, Mr. Chopy explained that town officials should have submitted a revised application and plan, prior to the commencing the work. 

"DEM may have required the Town to phase the project in a manner that allowed the animals that inhabit the pond an opportunity to move to a portion of the pond that was not being dredged, and then allow the animals an opportunity to move back to the dredged portion," wrote Mr. Chopy. 

DEM stated that it will not take any further enforcement action against the town, "given the nature and extent of the noncompliance." DEM officials consider the matter closed.

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha said that the town had intended to complete the work at Kent Street Pond years earlier, but had been unable to do so because the pond had not dried out as officials had anticipated. He said the town did not violate the intent of the permit, adding "we violated some technicalities."

Mr. Cunha said DEM officials knew that the town's intentions were to comply with the permit. The town manager said that in the future, if the town's permit is a bit dated, they will refile the application with the state.

Mr. Cunha, who was the recipient of the certified letter from DEM, said he is confident that if the town had re-filed the application and plan, the state would have approved it.

The town manager also said that Barrington officials had only intended on returning Kent Street Pond back to an active recreation area.

"You're never going to get 100 percent consensus," he said.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.