E. Providence offers alternative dredging disposal

Saying the city’s economic development will be hurt if contaminated sediments are dumped off its coastline, East Providence officials are proposing an alternative measure to get rid of materials dredged from the Providence River.

Officials are fighting a proposal to dump 1.2 million cubic yards of contaminated dredge spoils into a confined, 46-acre underwater disposal site off Watchemoket Cove. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended the site as the least expensive and environmentally acceptable solution to containing the contaminants.

But don’t tell that to City Manager Paul E. Lemont, who says creating a dump site off the coastline would be a blight to the city.

“I’m adamantly opposed,” Lemont said. “We’ve got a better use for the shoreline of the city of East Providence.”

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Instead, East Providence officials propose using the fill to extend Bold Point Park, across from India Point Park in Providence. Now, the water outside the park is littered with pilings and the remnants of a sunken ship. The area could be filled in to create space for a marina, a hotel, a bike path, and other uses, according to Lemont. Lemont said the city developed the plan a few years ago with the help of a team of University of Rhode Island graduate students, in anticipation that there would be a need to find a use for the spoils of a dredging enterprise. Officials say it could spur the future development of the city’s waterfront.

Jeanne M. Boyle, planning director for the city, noted that 95 percent of East Providence is built up. Therefore, the future of the city’s economic development rests with its ability to redevelop its coastline.

At one time much of its waterfront property was consumed by petroleum distribution operations. With consolidation in the industry, and changes in the law to make cleaning up these sites easier, the city now has shoreline property it can exploit. The city has had a waterfront redevelopment plan since 1987, including a plan to redevelop Kettle Point for 580 luxury condominiums, a project killed by the late 1980s recession, Boyle said.

The city’s proposal to extend Bold Point Park made the Army Corps’ short list of options for disposing of contaminants. The problem, said corps Project Manager Edward G. O’Donnell, is that the idea is expensive and would not take care of all of the contaminated materials. O’Donnell said it would cost $24.5 million to extend Bold Point using 943,000 cubic yards of fill. The remaining 250,000 or so cubic yards of contaminated fill would still have to be disposed in a confined underwater site, O’Donnell said.

“It’s very expensive,” O’Donnell said of the idea. “You’d be filling in part of (a) wetlands, which is pretty much a no-no.”

But Lemont said obstacles to the plan are not insurmountable, and added that cost should not prevent the city from going forward with the plan.

“In cleaning up the environment I didn’t know that cost was the only consideration,” he said. “I’m going to urge every person that has any clout in the state of Rhode Island to say, ‘Don’t make a decision that creates a dump off East Providence.'”

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