2014-01-31 / Front Page

Town Tries for Large Disaster Aid

Jonathan Clancy

In a move that could eventually help the town to better withstand coastal storms and other harsh natural events, the Middletown Town Council voted unanimously on Jan. 27 to approve an application for the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program.

In August 2013, the Department of the Interior announced that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation would assist in administering a competitive grant program. The grants will fund projects that reduce communities’ vulnerability to the risks of coastal storms, sea level rise, flooding, erosion, and other threats. Grants from $100,000 to $5 million will be awarded to projects that assess, restore, enhance, or create wetlands, beaches, and other natural systems to better protect communities, both human and wild.

“This is partnership on steroids,” said Councilor Richard Adams, who thanked all the involved parties for their hard work so far on the application proposal, which is due on Jan. 31.

Thirteen local, state, and federal agencies are cooperating to establish goals that satisfy the grant’s requirements. They include Aquidneck Land Trust, Center for Ecosystem Restoration, Easton’s Point Neighborhood Association, The Nature Conservancy, Newport Preservation Society, Norman Bird Sanctuary, Prince Charitable Trusts, Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Save The Bay, Scenic Aquidneck Coalition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Van Beuren Charitable Foundation.

According to Town Administrator Shawn Brown, the grant application seeks $4,497,000. The thiteen agencies have also pledged a match of $1,084,000. The town of Middletown would also contribute a match of $525,000. Matching is not required under the grant laws but agencies that pledge to match will score higher in the budget section of the evaluation criteria, according to the NFWF.

The group agreed on six projects they felt would best fulfill grant requirements: Along the Sachuest Bay and Sakonnet River, power lines would be buried and roadbeds would be raised to protect infrastructure from storms and flooding. Stormwater controls would be designed and installed in the Maidford River watershed.

Another project would restore barrier beach dunes and build crossover structures to help beachgoers get from the parking lot to the shore. According to the proposal, this would strengthen the shoreline and protect animal habitats. Wetland and upland habitats for fish and wildlife will be restored. The group would also like to see improved beach access, hiking trails, and other assets for outdoor recreation. The Norman Bird Sanctuary has also committed to creating educational programs for students to engage them in environmental science and stewardship.

In other business, the council approved an $834,450 change order to cover additional work needed for the Easton’s Point sewer spot repairs contract with East Coast Landscape & Construction. The change order includes milling and paving certain Easton’s Point roads, sewer trench repair, as well as loaming and seeding of disturbed areas.

The council decided there was no need for a new midblock crosswalk at the intersection of West Main Road and Rosedale Avenue. According to a letter from the secretary of the state Traffic Commission Steven Pristawa, an engineering study was completed for the area at the request of a Middletown citizen, and the proposed crosswalk was deemed unnecessary for many reasons, the most prominent of which is that there is already a crosswalk 450 feet from the proposed sight.

Other reasons included the observation of only three pedestrians per hour attempting to cross at the sight. The recommended minimum number of pedestrians crossing a roadway for consideration of a marked crosswalk is 20 people per hour. There were also no crashes involving pedestrians at the intersections for the past three years.

The Council heard a request from Aquidneck Island Planning Commission Executive Director Tina Dolen regarding reorganization of the AIPC board of directors. The proposed change would increase the number of board members from six to 13. Three members from each Island community would make up a nine-member planning committee, while a four-member executive committee would be made up of one member from each town and the executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. Dolan said that the move would give Middletown, Newport, and Portsmouth more input regarding AIPC objectives.

The Middletown council agreed not to vote on the issue until its February 17, meeting. Council members said that the proposal was confusing and in need of revision. The Portsmouth Town Council approved a resolution for the reorganization earlier this month, and Newport is set to make a decision on February 12.

The council also heard from Middletown resident John Bagwill regarding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority rail extension from Fall River to Aquidneck Island. Bagwill strongly opposed the idea and urged the council to direct the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission to examine the project closely. Bagwill said the rail extension would, “accelerate the development of Aquidneck Island as a bedroom community for Boston and its suburbs.” He also expressed his concern that an accelerated demand for housing would make housing even less affordable on the island.

Council President Christopher Semonelli disagreed with Bagwill, calling the rail extension a huge opportunity that could open the island up for more jobs and tourism.

Return to top