Matching funds proving elusive for Winnapaug Pond dredging project

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Winnapaug Pond (Image: Mark12211 at English Wikipedia)

Posted April 15, 2019

WESTERLY — Town staff members will continue to work on obtaining permits for a large-scale dredge of Winnapaug Pond and hope that local funds materialize to match federal grants, officials said this week.

An approximately $2.1 million dredging grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service expired Thursday. The town is seeking a second extension of the grant, which first expired late last year.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney asked the Town Council on Tuesday to consider repurposing $651,000 in the proposed 2019-20 budget to satisfy a matching requirement of the grant. The funds, requested by Lisa Pellegrini, director of the town's Development Services Department, were not in Rooney's original version of the budget but had been part of the original capital project budget presented to the Planning Board last fall.

Rooney reiterated his request to the Town Council on Thursday, saying he would not encumber $650,000 worth of road and sidewalk funds in the proposed 2019-20 budget with the hope that the town receives an extension of the grant and is approved for permits by the state Coastal Resources Management Council. Road work would still occur since the town is planning to use a portion of the road bond approved by voters in November, Rooney said.

"If we get the grant you'll have a political decision to not use that money for sidewalks and roads," Rooney said.

Rooney said he had not included the dredging money in his budget request because he did not have a firm number on how much to seek. He also noted that former Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy failed to budget for the matching requirement.

Second-term Councilor William Aiello acknowledged that the previous council had supported moving forward with plans to dredge the pond, but was surprised by the amount of money the town would be required to contribute.

"There was never any talk about forking out this kind of money," he said.

For several years residents and town officials have discussed the need to dredge the pond. More recently, residents who live in Misquamicut have said the pond has grown increasingly clogged with silt, making passage in watercraft difficult in some spots.

"If you don't dredge eventually you won't have the breachway open for boating and you'll have aquatic life choked out...and property values will decline. That's the recommendation from the experts I've talked with," Rooney said.

Council President Christopher Duhamel said he was hesitant to commit to Rooney's funding plan since it was not part of the budget material reviewed by the Board of Finance. The council restored the road and sidewalk money after Rooney had greatly reduced the fund. After the meeting Thursday, Duhamel said the council will face a decision if the permits and grant are obtained.

The town staff has asked state Sen. Denis Algiere, R-Westerly, and state Rep. Sam Azzinaro, D-Westerly, to study whether CRMC or other state agencies have funds available that could help the town with matching the federal grant, Rooney said.

According to Rooney, the staff is also pursuing a separate grant for dredging the pond from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said that grant would be for about the same amount as the NRCS one and would carry a similar matching requirement.

A small section of the pond was dredged in the winter of 2017. Town officials had wanted to do more but the permitting process tied to salt marsh and eelgrass restoration was too involved to get the project ready in time.