Our Work in Newport County

Photo of 1970 Life Magazine article about Save The Bay's first battle
In 1971, LIFE magazine printed a feature story about the brave decision by the Town of Tiverton to reject a proposed oil refinery along its shores. Several members of this community joined forces with others from Jamestown to form Save The Bay in 1970.

Save The Bay’s work is rooted in Newport County.

You could say that Newport County was the birthplace of the citizens’ movement to protect Narragansett Bay. That movement began in 1956, when 17  residents of Jamestown mobilized to defeat a proposed oil refinery on the north end of Conanicut Island. In the summer of 1970, a similar battle was waged in Tiverton by “Save Our Community,” whose members tapped the expertise of the people of Jamestown. And when that proposal was defeated, the two groups came together and created Save The Bay to serve as a statewide watchdog advocating for the best interests of the Bay and the people who depend on it.

Since then, Save The Bay’s presence and work in Newport County has been a constant. After all, with its treasured beaches, important salt marshes, undeveloped open spaces, marinas, and stunning water views, Newport County is ideal for enjoying Narragansett Bay in every way possible.

Discover some highlights of our work in Newport County over the years

2010 THROUGH TODAY

Since 2010, Save The Bay’s advocacy, habitat education and outreach programs have been major assets for Newport County. In partnership with local advocacy groups, cities and towns, foundations, businesses, educators and volunteers, we are taking action to protect water quality; to help habitats adapt to rapid sea level rise, erosion and other climate impacts; and expand our reach to Newport County schools.

2010 through today

Jonathan Stone talking at the YES on 5 & 6 Bond Kickoff Rally
Save The Bay regularly coordinates the communications effort around environmental bonds that help Rhode Island improve and protect open spaces, water quality, and other natural resources

Advocacy

  • In coalition with Jamestown, Aquidneck Island and other communities, Save The Bay battled the Hess LNG proposal every step of the way, including an open letter to Hess shareholders in the Wall Street Journal, legislation in the R.I. General Assembly, a billboard campaign, petition and relentless media work. This multi-year effort culminated in Hess’ decision to abandon its plans in 2011.
  • Save The Bay has coordinated broad-based, statewide-coalitions supporting investments in clean water and open space projects. Among the benefits these bonds have provided Newport County:
    • The 2016 Green Economy bond provided a $153,750 grant to preserve 5.5 acres around Jamestown’s reservoir – a sole source aquifer. This parcel abuts 133 acres of conservation land and helps to protect the town’s drinking water supply.
    • The 2016 Green Economy Bond also provided $800,000 to connect Conanicut Island and North Kingstown bikeways with new access ramps and other features. This project will be underway in 2022.
    • The 2014 Environmental Bond included $265,000 for the construction of a stormwater pollution project along Jamestown’s North Road to reduce the discharge of untreated stormwater into a municipal drinking water supply reservoir.
    • The 2010 bond provided funds for the much-needed restoration of Fort Adams in Newport.
Pell Elementary School students plant dune grasses at Easton's Beach
Pell Elementary School students plant dune grasses at Easton’s Beach

Education

  • Since 2012, Save The Bay has been providing high-impact, year-round science programming for the entire Newport Public Schools third-grade. Students participate in several hands-on experiences throughout academic year, including classroom-based lessons about watersheds and animals. At our Exploration Center and Aquarium, they explore habitats and learn about the animals of Narragansett Bay. And aboard our education vessels, they learn about Rhode Island state marine mammal, the harbor seal.
  • We worked with students and teachers from Rogers High School to install three rain gardens around the campus to capture and infiltrate runoff from the school’s parking lots. The runoff now soaks into the ground instead of flowing directly down to Lily Pond, a shallow, coastal pond degraded by excess nutrients.
  • We provide afterschool programs in Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth schools. During these multiple-session lessons that range from five to 10 weeks, students learn about Narragansett Bay and explore its animals and habitats.
  • In partnership with The Jamestown Education Foundation, we provided a summer Baycamp program at Fort Getty for Jamestown’s K-12 students for five years. We also use Fort Getty’s sandy beach and salt marsh habitats as our outdoor classroom where we have introduced students from throughout our state to Narragansett Bay.
  • We bring students from all over the state to Mackerel Cove and Prudence Island in our education vessels, M/V Alletta Morris and M/V Elizabeth Morris, to teach about the history and marine ecology of Narragansett Bay.
Park Avenue Flooding
Park Avenue in Portsmouth is under significant threat of sea level rise and increased storm surges resulting from climate change

Water Quality Improvements:

  • Save The Bay co-leads the Green Infrastructure Coalition, which mobilizes Aquidneck Island municipalities, organizations and individuals to address water quality problems, coastal flooding risks, erosion and public health threats through the natural treatment of stormwater.  
  • We served on the Newport Combined Sewer Overflow Program Stakeholder Work Group to help City of Newport develop solutions to raw sewage overflow problems following heavy rain events.  The City is now working on a long-term redesign of its wastewater collection, storage and treatment facilities, with completion planned for 2033. 
  • Our advocacy on cesspool pollution in Portsmouth spurred the Department of Environmental Management to reach an agreement with the town to establish a wastewater management district. Today, Portsmouth is required to conduct regular inspections of septic systems and phase out cesspools, which leach untreated human waste into the ground and groundwater.  
  • We worked with students and teachers from Rogers High School to install three rain gardens around the campus, preventing polluted runoff from the school’s parking lots from flowing directly down to Lily Pond, a shallow, coastal pond degraded by excess nutrients.
  • We called public attention to chronic pollution of Almy Pond, which is overloaded with nutrients (phosphorous) that cause frequent outbreaks of toxic cyanobacteria that makes contact with its waters unsafe. The City of Newport is now working to address the problem.
  • We are advocating for a Middletown Stormwater Enterprise Fund to help the town of Middletown implement projects that will reduce polluted runoff and improve water quality. Enterprise funds, also known as “utility districts,” assess a stormwater management fee based on the amount of pavement and impervious surfaces (such as rooftops) on a property. This financing approach is used by over 2,000 municipalities around the country.
Wenley Ferguson digging runnels at Round Marsh
Habitat Restoration Manager Wenley Ferguson is a leader in marsh adaptation. Here, she demonstrates to volunteers how to dig runnels to help drain trapped water.

Habitat Restoration

  • Since completion of the multi-year restoration initiative at the 63-acre Gooseneck Cove in 2009, we have continued monitoring the cove and engaging volunteers in the planting of salt marsh grasses and digging of runnels to remove impounded water from the marsh surface. The site recently served as a key project for members of the Volvo Ocean Race as part of their efforts to support habitat restoration initiatives that help sequester carbon and protect our waters.
  • We have partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge on a major marsh adaptation project at Sachuest Marsh, planting thousands of salt marsh grasses and digging many shallow creeks to drain impounded water off the marsh surface to limit further sinking.
  • After years of monitoring the deterioration of Round Marsh by rising seas leaving water atop the marsh and upsetting the delicate ecosystem that fish, shellfish, birds and other wildlife depend upon, we designed, implemented and secured funding for a Round Marsh restoration project to excavate new channels that allow tides to drain off of the marsh. We have been monitoring the inland migration of Round Marsh, with an eye on its migration keeping pace with rising seas.
  • For many years, Save The Bay has led dune restoration projects at Hazard’s Beach and Easton’s Beach, working with K-12 students in Newport to plant nearly 15,000 dune grass plants. 
  • To address chronic erosion on King Park Beach in Newport’s inner harbor, we partnered with the City of Newport on an innovative approach: we filled coconut fiber tubes or “burritos” with sand and installed them along the eroding bank. In areas with less erosion, we staked coconut fiber “logs” along the bank. We then covered both the “burritos” and the “logs” with sand to create a beach slope that can better withstand constant wave and tidal action.
  • We partnered with Surfrider Foundation to protect the surf break at Easton’s Beach during a R.I. Department of Transportation Cliff Walk restoration project. When the Department of Transportation wanted to use heavy equipment to build jetties in the surf break area, Save The Bay and Surfrider stepped in and provided support that led the Coastal Resources Management Council to require a redesign of this project to avoid negative impacts to this hallowed surfing site.
Volunteers picking up trash at Easton's Beach
From spring through fall, Save The Bay coordinates beach cleanups throughout Newport County. Hundreds of volunteers and supporting organizations take part.

Public Programs & Engagement

  • Save The Bay assumed leadership of Rhode Island’s participation in the International Coastal Cleanup, and partners with Clean Ocean Access and other groups to coordinate beach cleanups at Common Fence point, Potter Cove, Fort Wetherill, Easton’s Beach, Third Beach, Sachuest Beach, Fort Adams, Mackerel Cove and other locations throughout Newport County.
  • In 2013, we expanded our public outreach and education programs with the christening of the M/V Elizabeth Morris at Ft. Adam’s State Park in Newport.
  • In collaboration with Aquidneck Island partners, Save The Bay developed the Aquidneck Island Nature Collaborative, encouraging people to explore Aquidneck Island’s natural resources, locations and events on the island.
  • In partnership with the Aquidneck Growers Market, Marriott, the Visitor’s Center, Newport Vineyard Farmers Market, Gurneys, Prescott Farms and local schools, we take our traveling touch tank to locations throughout Newport County to introduce community members to critters of Narragansett Bay.
  • Save The Bay participates in local events, including the Newport Winter Festival and Newport County Hospitality Days, offering discounted admission to the Exploration Center and Aquarium.

3000

Newport County students

engaged in marine science and environmental education programs last year

In 2018, our Exploration Center and Aquarium served

30,246

Newport guests

2,700

visitors

ventured out with us on our Newport Seal Tours last year

1990s & 2000s

The 1990s and early 2000s included major advocacy victories, new threats and bold initiatives. Save The Bay focused our energies on saving Mount Hope Bay and the Sakonnet River from raw sewage overflows and thermal pollution. Our pathbreaking habitat restoration program achieved major success in Newport County. And, our education programs expanded dramatically in Newport County with a new education vessel and the Exploration Center at Easton’s Beach.

Save The Bay’s work in Newport County, 1990s & 2000s

Brayton Point Power Plant photo in the 2000s before the cooling towers
The Brayton Point Power Plant was responsible for an 85% decline in finfish in Mt. Hope Bay in the 1990s. Save The Bay relentlessly advocated for stricter discharge limits and the construction of cooling towers.

Advocacy

  • Save The Bay’s 1988 lawsuit to stop the discharge of untreated sewage into the Sakonnet River from the Sherwood Park Development in Portsmouth led to the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility for Sherwood Park.
  • Save The Bay served as a media liaison in the wake of the Penn Maritime oil spill, which dumped an estimated 9,700 gallons of #6 fuel oil into the Bay off Middletown in 2000.
  • A 14-year-long Brayton Point Power Plant advocacy campaign by Save The Bay began in 1993 and paid off in 2007, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required the Brayton Point Power Station to build cooling towers to protect Mount Hope Bay. The plant, which used and then released 1.4 gallons of Bay water per day, heated up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, was implicated in the collapse of fish populations in Mount Hope Bay in the 1980s. In the 1990s, our effort successfully resulted in an interim permit requiring the plant to reduce its discharge levels to pre-1985 levels. In 2007, our advocacy ended the damaging practice of “once-through” cooling.
  • In 2007, Save The Bay sprang to action to protect Mount Hope Bay from inevitable pollution and threats to public access that would have resulted from the construction a massive Liquefied Natural Gas terminal on the Taunton River in the city of Fall River. After years of permit hearings, legal wrangling, appeals, and relentless public and political pressure against the project, the Hess company withdrew its proposal.
Underwater picture of scuba diver planting eelgrass
Hundreds of volunteers engaged with Save The Bay on a years-long effort to grow and transplant eelgrass throughout Narragansett Bay in an effort to restore these important habitats previously lost to pollution.

Habitat Restoration

    • We celebrated the completion of the first phase of the long-standing Gooseneck Cove salt marsh restoration project in Newport, an effort to restore salt marsh plants, prevent future degradation of the marsh, and improve the cove’s water quality by restoring tidal flushing. We worked with many partners to conduct site evaluations, monitor water quality and marsh health, train volunteers and raise awareness about the importance of salt marshes to Bay health.
  • In 2001, Save The Bay launched what became a signature eelgrass restoration initiative to transplant, and hopefully restore, eelgrass beds throughout Narragansett Bay. In the pilot project, we led hundreds of volunteers who transplanted hundreds of thousands of eelgrass shoots at some 20 sites, including sites in the East Passage and Sakonnet River. After a successful pilot program, we expanded the scope and scale of the program for more than seven years, using eelgrass harvested from donor beds at King’s Beach in Newport and eelgrass shoots grown from seed at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. Our most successful transplant survival rate was at Prudence Island West.
A dad and two kids at the Exploration Center and Aquarium
The Exploration Center and Aquarium is a 1,500-square-foot marine science center that is open year-round at Easton’s Beach.

Education

  • Recognizing the importance of a Save The Bay presence on Aquidneck Island, we opened a satellite learning resource at Seamen’s Church Institute in 2000. This Narragansett Bay Station was the predecessor to our Exploration Center and Aquarium.
  • By 2009, we were providing marine science and environmental education programs to students in every school in Newport school district. At Pell Elementary, we visited students in their classrooms to teach about the Bay’s animals and habitats. Fifth-graders from Thompson Middle School were joining us on the Bay aboard M/V Alletta Morris for marine science cruises. And Rogers High School students were participating in our Narragansett Bay Field studies program, using Gooseneck Marsh as their field site.
A Save The Bay seal tour
Save The Bay seal tours welcome guests out onto the Bay from October through April, when harbor seals visit from northern climates.

Public Programs and Engagement

  • Recognizing the importance of a Save The Bay presence on Aquidneck Island, we opened a satellite learning resource at Seamen’s Church Institute in 2000. This Narragansett Bay Station was the predecessor to our Exploration Center and Aquarium
  • In a strategic move to connect our communities to Narragansett Bay, we took over management of New England Aquarium’s exploration center on Easton’s Beach in 2005. Our vision was that it serve as a year-round resource for students, teachers and the general public. We installed heating and eventually air conditioning to make that possible.
  • Following Superstorm Sandy, we rebuilt and reopened our hands-on Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach and have continued to upgrade our exhibits ever since. The Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium is open year-round and currently welcomes over 30,000 community members and 3,000 students each year.
  • Using our education vessels M/V Alletta Morris and M/V Elizabeth Morris, we have been running our public Seal Tours out of Newport since 2002, and in partnership with Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, include a tour of Rose Island Light with the experience.

1970s & 1980s

During our first two decades, Save The Bay fought off three major energy facility proposals in Newport County, responded to the first major oil spill in Rhode Island waters, called attention to the threat of unplanned development on Aquickneck Island, took legal action to stop raw sewage overflows, and launched the iconic “Swim the Bay” to raise awareness about water pollution in Narragansett Bay.  These actions laid the groundwork for decades of advocacy and education in Newport County.

1970s & 1980s

Northeastern Petroleum Proposed Refinery Plan
This early model depicted Northeastern Petroleum’s proposed oil refinery plans for the shores of Tiverton (Image credit: Herald Times, August 12, 1970)

Advocacy

  • Following the footsteps of our founders, Save The Bay successfully defeated Liquefied Natural Gas proposals for Portsmouth, Jamestown and Prudence Island in the 1970s, protecting public access to Bay waters and preserving the health and habitat of these coastal ecosystems.
  • Save The Bay initiated the Aquidneck Island Pollution Prevention Project to identify pollution problems associated with land use and development practices. Field studies revealed a host of water pollution problems resulting from rapid and unplanned development. Save The Bay stationed a team of four on Aquidneck Island.
  • In 1986, Save The Bay helped win passage of a $4 million bond for improvements to the Newport Sewage Treatment Plant.
  • Along with Friends of the Sakonnet and the Rhode Island Attorney General, Save The Bay filed suit to stop the discharge of untreated sewage into the Sakonnet River from Sherwood Park Development in Portsmouth.
  • Save The Bay launched our “Hope For Mount Hope Bay” campaign, which identified specific cleanup steps for both Rhode Island and Massachusetts in order to reopen Mount Hope Bay for shellfishing and other uses. Save The Bay called attention to the nearly 1 billion gallons-per-year discharge of raw sewage from Fall River’s antiquated combined sewer system. In response to our advocacy, plus legal action by the Conservation Law Foundation, Fall River voters approved funding to correct the problem.
Similar photos of the Swim starting line in 1986 and 2018.
While much has changed over the years, much has stayed the same—as evidenced in this side-by-side comparison of photos from the 1986 and 2018 Swim starting lines.

Public Programs and Engagement

  • In 1977, the first Save The Bay Swim was launched from the Eastern shore of Jamestown, with 100 swimmers making the cross-Bay trek to Newport’s Point neighborhood. These days, nearly 500 swimmers and kayakers jump into the Bay in Newport and swim across the Bay to Potter Cove in Jamestown.
  • Responding to the 420,000-gallon oil spill caused by the grounding of the World Prodigy on Brenton Reef at the entrance to Narragansett Bay in 1989, Save The Bay mobilized hundreds of volunteers to aid in a massive cleanup. For our role in mitigating this disaster, Save The Bay was named the 76th of a “Thousand Points of Light” by the President of the United States.

*Please note:  Be sure to access the Johnson & Wales University Harborside Campus through the main entrance on Harborside Blvd. Your GPS may suggest taking Ernest Street to JWU’s Shipyard Street entrance, but that route requires a key card for entry.  

From Route I-95 North or South, take Exit 18 (Thurbers Avenue). Head downhill on Thurbers Avenue to US Route 1A (Allens Avenue). Turn right onto Allens Ave. Continue southbound on Allens Ave. into Cranston, where Allens Ave. becomes Narragansett Blvd. Turn left onto Harborside Blvd. at the traffic light by the Shell gas station. Follow Harborside Blvd. through the Johnson & Wales Harborside Campus. At the end of Harborside Blvd., turn right onto Save The Bay Drive. Save The Bay Drive becomes a circular, one-way roadway as you approach the Bay Center. Parking is available in four guest lots after you pass the main building. Enter the building through the main entrance.

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