Posted on December 24, 2020
WESTERLY — Work on an eelgrass restoration project that is expected to include the removal of 70,800 cubic yards of sand from the bottom of Winnapaug Pond has been delayed again after contractors submitted bids that exceeded cost estimates.
The dredge portion of the project had been scheduled to occur during the current dredge window, which started on Oct. 1 and runs through January. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Coastal Resources Management Council decided to postpone the work with the hope of performing it next fall.
CRMC is serving as the state sponsoring agency for the project, which town officials have worked on for years.
“I’m told that since the bids that came in for the construction of the project were way above the government estimate for the project, the decision on a path forward between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the sponsor (state Coastal Resources Management Council) was to hold off on the project this year and re-advertise the project next year in hopes of more competitive bids,” said Bryan Purtell, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New England District.
The Army Corps has assigned a $2.7 million price tag to the project, with $2.4 million in federal funds and $300,000 in town funding being used to pay for it. In November, Westerly voters approved borrowing up to $1 million from the state Infrastructure Bank to pay the town’s share of the work. Town officials have discussed paying the loan off over 10 years.
Town officials had secured easements from private property owners to allow for staging equipment and getting equipment for the dredge work into the pond when they learned the project would be postponed.
“Apparently, the bids were far over what the estimate was,” said Lisa Pellegrini, director of the town’s Department of Development Services.
The lowest bid, Pellegrini said, was nearly $1 million higher than the Army Corps’ estimate. The Army Corps is expected to solicit bids for a second time in the spring and hopes to commence the project in October of next year, she said.
Art Ganz, president of the Salt Ponds Coalition, said the project is sorely needed but will address just a fraction of the volume of sand that is clogging the pond.
“This project is a really good project but Winnapaug Pond needs a whole lot more than just that,” Ganz said.
Two sedimentation basins — one 9 feet deep and one 5 feet deep — will be created as part of the project. Creation of the basins, which will have to be emptied periodically, is a technique to prevent future shoaling.
While the water quality in Winnapaug Pond has remained mostly good, Ganz said the sand accumulation has buried once-plentiful eelgrass and has had other negative effects, including a sharp reduction in biodiversity.
“You don’t see most of the species you would expect to find there,” said Ganz, a retired marine biologist.