NARRAGANSETT, RI – Four years after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in October
2012 and damaged several coastal wildlife refuges and marshes in Rhode Island and
other communities, a new, federally-funded saltmarsh restoration project is underway
within the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge on the Narrow River. Today, U.S.
Senator Jack Reed joined officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the
Nature Conservancy, and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC)
for a firsthand look at the cooperative effort to rebuild these important natural
buffers in order to make them more resilient in the future for people, wildlife, and
Currently, there are many areas of the saltmarsh where ponded water stays on the
surface, even at low tide, drowning vegetation and providing areas for mosquitos to
breed, according to the CRMC, which notes: «This is thought to be the result of sea
level rise, which is happening at an increasingly faster rate due to climate change.
Marshes with healthy vegetation are better able to accumulate sediments and build
elevation to keep up with rising sea levels. However, recent evidence suggests that
most of the marshes in Rhode Island are not keeping pace with sea level rise and
The restoration project entails removing sand from the Narrow River and spreading it
across 30 acres of the marsh, raising the elevation by six inches, thus making it
more resilient to sea-level rise. This month, crews on barges will be dredging and
depositing the dredged material onto different areas of the marsh. CRMC estimates
the dredge footprint will create an approximately 65-foot wide channel in the river.
Sand from the dredging will be used to help elevate the marshes on the eastern side
of the river.
«This is a great opportunity to strengthen and restore critical saltmarsh habitat at
the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge. This area is an important habitat for
fish and wildlife and serves as a storm barrier protecting people. It also acts as
a natural buffer zone and almost like a kidney to the local water system, filtering
out sediment and pollutants while soaking up excess water during heavy rains,» noted
Senator Reed. «When it is completed, this project will help us better preserve and
protect against future storm surges and increasing sea level rise.»
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Senator Reed, who was then serving as the
Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, worked to secure $787 million
for Hurricane Sandy recovery nationwide through the U.S. Department of Interior, to
help coastal wetlands, marshes, and shorelines along the East Coast recover from the
damage caused by the storm and increase resiliency against future storms and climate
change. About $15 million of this federal funding was committed to various
restoration and resiliency projects in Rhode Island, including $1.4 million for the
Narrow River Restoration project, which focuses on 30 acres of marsh on the eastern
shore of the Narrow River estuary, opposite Pettaquamscutt Cove.
Reed also helped secure $122,000 in federal funding in 2012 to develop a series of
maps called the Sea Levels Affecting Marshes Model
planning officials understand how sea level rise will impact coastal wetlands and
conserve upland areas adjacent to these salt marshes.
During the boat tour of the marshland, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service pointed out the importance of saltmarsh and wetland ecosystems, including
their role in providing natural flood protection, erosion control, water quality
control, and as a nursery for aquatic species and birds.
Reed also noted that investing in the restoration of coastal ecosystems can help
create jobs and boost long-term economic value. A recent
by the Center for American Progress found that every $1 million invested in coastal
restoration creates about 17 jobs on average. Additionally, each taxpayer dollar
spent restoring wetlands returns more than $15 in net benefits, including buffering
storm surges; safeguarding coastal homes and businesses; creating nursery habitats
for commercial and recreational important fish species; and, restoring open space
and wildlife that support recreation and tourism.
«This is an effective plan to restore degraded saltmarshes as protective buffers
against severe storms. I commend The Nature Conservancy, the US Fish & Wildlife
Service, CRMC, and their many community partners who have collaborated on this
effort. We must continue making sound investments to protect our natural habitat
and environmental resources,» concluded Reed.
*photo: Sen. Reed speaks with Karrie Schwaab, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, during
tour of salt marsh restoration along the Narrow River.*