Comments Submitted: Application to Alter Freshwater Wetlands, Albion Dam Retrofit
As part of Save The Bay’s advocacy efforts, our team routinely reviews and submits comments on applications pending before the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council concerning issues related to water quality, wetlands and coastal resources. Save The Bay submitted the comments highlighted below to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.
New England Hydropower filed an application to retrofit the Albion Dam to produce electricity. It proposes the construction of a temporary access road and a 20-foot-wide permanent access road along the Blackstone River that would destroy trees, reduce recreational opportunities, and could affect water quality. A new 51-foot-long, 45.75-foot-wide water intake canal and a new 50-foot-long, 24-foot-wide and 18-foot-high concrete powerhouse is also proposed, which would impact the river and features along the bank.
Site Location and Habitat:
The proposed project site is along the Blackstone River in Cumberland, Rhode Island. A small swamp with trees, shrubs and woodland flowering plants is located next to the riverbank, and the proposed project would fill a part of this forested wetlands as well as disturb the physical features of the riverbank wetland.
The site was acquired by the State of Rhode Island in 1990 with the use of bond funds, and “conservation” is designated as site’s primary use. The site also falls within a mapped Natural Heritage Area, or an area where rare and uncommon species have been identified or historically present.
Areas of Concern/Comments:
- Loss of wildlife habitat: The birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that use the riverbank where the access road is proposed would need to find new habitat.
- Loss of wildlife habitat: The loss of overhanging trees that shade and cool the waters of the Blackstone would reduce habitat for fish and other aquatic species.
- Impairment of river connectivity: The 30-year life of the permit would delay efforts to remove dams in the Blackstone River watershed. The proposed project does not include a way for fish, eels, or other aquatic species to move upstream.
- Water quality: Naturally-vegetated forest along the banks of the Blackstone help to slow down stormwater and take up nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—and other contaminants before they reach the Blackstone. Disruption to this vegetation could result in impairments to water quality.
- Loss of public access for fishing, hiking, photography, nature study, birdwatching and other wildlife viewing.
- Loss of aesthetics along the bank of the Blackstone.
Laws and Regulations Cited:
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 2-1-18 and 2-1-19
- Rules and Regulations Governing the Administration and Enforcement of the Freshwater Wetlands Act