Groups urged to unite to save salt marshes

Warwick Beacon Online
by John Howell
February 26, 2009

Times aren’t looking good for the real estate and housing markets, but that is being viewed as an opportunity to preserve 18 acres of salt marshes that are spawning ground for marine life, a habitat for many species of wildlife and a natural retention area for floodwaters.

“This is our coming out,” Thomas Wilson, chairman of the Mill Cove Conservancy says of renewed efforts to save marshlands on both sides of Point Avenue at Conimicut Point and along Mill Cove.

On Monday night, the conservancy conducted a 90-minute discussion about the preservation of salt marshes at a meeting at the Warwick Library. About 25 people were in attendance including members of the Buckeye Brook Coalition and the Conimicut Village Association.

“It’s a wonderful part of the community. Talk about a hidden asset,” Conimicut Point resident and conservancy president Tom Sepe said of the mix of residential and recreational uses and natural beauty of the area. Sepe lives across from the marshes and he said it’s not unusual to have motorists stop to watch a feeding heron or other wildlife or just to take in the view.

What has the group concerned is that more houses could be built around the marshes and they would be reduced if not lost.

“This is not a happy time to take on big projects,” Wilson conceded of any effort to preserve the marshes. However, he added, “once you lose it, it’s gone, it’s not like you can get it back.”

The conservancy is not alone in its efforts.

In 2005 the Warwick Land Trust obtained a $100,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Management through the Rhode Island Open Space Program to obtain about seven acres of marshland to the south of Point Avenue. The city agreed to match the sum with proceeds from fees in lieu of open space that developers have paid into a special account.

According to Richard Crenca in the city planning department, an appraisal of the property was recently completed, placing a value of about $8,000 on each of the 30 lots making up the site. Thus far the city has spent about $12,000 on tax title searching, advertising and the appraisal, of which half will be refunded once properties are acquired.

But, so far, no properties have been saved.

Christopher D’Ovidio, chairman of the land trust, said the group has been in discussions with at least three landowners. Meanwhile, he explained, the city is pursuing acquisition of those properties where there are tax liens.

D’Ovidio said he has talked with Sepe of the conservancy and they are on the same track in an effort to preserve Conimicut area marshlands.

While the conservancy does not have any funds at this time, Sepe said the group is looking to work with the land trust and has the ability of receiving easements and donations of property that become a tax deduction for the donor.

Sepe sees the effort reaching beyond the marsh currently targeted for preservation by the land trust. He said he considers the point marshes, Mill Cove and Buckeye Brook as “inseparably connected.” The effort he envisions is to bring community groups together as partners in those preservation efforts.

The marshland identified by the conservancy is comprised of 100 lots of which 34 are privately held. The city holds tax liens on 28 percent of the area.

“We have to work together; the neighborhood has to want it,” Wilson said.

The concept of a united effort gained the endorsement of New Jersey transplant John Paul. He extolled the convenience and beauty of the area, saying such a place in New Jersey would be beyond the means of many people. Paul urged other community groups to join in the preservation effort yet maintain their own individual focus.

Wilson said Tuesday that he believes there may be opportunities for federal funding to help save the marshes with the Obama administration. He said letters would go out to landowners noting that the gifts of property and or easements to the conservancy are eligible for tax deductions. He said the conservancy would conduct planning sessions over the next several weeks in preparation for the annual meeting when a strategy will be outlined.