Winnapaug Pond dredging project hits a financial sandbar

Posted on July 20, 2021

WESTERLY — An eelgrass restoration project that is expected to result in removal of 70,800 cubic yards of sand from the bottom of Winnapaug Pond is facing a funding gap the Town Council will take up Monday.

For the second year in a row, bids for the project have exceeded a cost estimate being used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project. The work was to have been performed last winter, but the federal agency postponed the project to this coming winter because of high bids.

This year, only one of five bids received for the project came in under an estimate of about $2,249,650 being used by the Corps of Engineers, and the low bidder has withdrawn its bid, according to a memorandum to the council from Lisa Pellegrini, director of the municipal development services project.

The next lowest bid of $2,996,130 from Atna JF Brenan, of Irvine, Calif., will require the town to come up with an additional $283,000 to meet its funding-match requirement. The entire project, including design and permitting fees, was originally estimated by the U.S. Army Corps at $2.78 million, with  $2.4 million in federal funds and $974,520 in non-federal (in this case town) funding being used to pay for it.

In her memorandum, Pellegrini said the U.S. Army Corps informed her that it has obtained the additional federal share of the project and needs the additional town funds to award the dredge contract according to the U.S. Army Corps’ prescribed timeline, which calls for awarding the contract by the end of the month. Pellegrini also said that the state Coastal Resources Management Council informed her that it does not have funds available for the project.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney, according to Pellegrini’s memorandum, has recommended using $110,000 from funds voters approved borrowing for the dredge project in November, $104,650 in funds earmarked for the project in the town budget, and $68,350 from a grant match fund in the town budget.  Voters approved borrowing up to $1 million from the state Infrastructure Bank for the project.

The eelgrass restoration project, which includes dredging a portion of the pond, is scheduled to begin Oct. 1. Without the additional funds, the project cannot move forward, Pellegrini said.

Town and state officials have discussed the need to dredge the approximately 475-acre pond for decades. The last known dredge, aside from a small one of 8,000 cubic yards in 2018, occurred in the 1960s. Sediment that has built up in the pond over the decades, including some that was washed in during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is believed to pose a threat to the ecology of the pond and also makes navigating the pond in watercraft difficult in places.

The council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at Town Hall. Citizens can watch or participate in the meeting by visiting  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89837479300 or calling 929-205-6099 or 877-853-5257. The meeting identification number is 898-3747-9300.

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