City seeks role in Buckeye Brook talks

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Providence Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK -- City Hall and the Conservation Law Foundation have asked for intervenor status in the 17-month-old dispute between two state agencies over chemical pollution in Buckeye Brook.

Since November 2004, the Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation have been trying to negotiate the terms of a stormwater discharge permit for the T.F. Green Airport.

The city wants to be recognized as a party to the talks to encourage the DEM to adhere to the strict limits it proposed in 2004 on the amount of aircraft de-icing chemicals in the brook.

The Airport Corporation, meanwhile, opposes those limits as unachievable.

Buckeye Brook supports an annual run of blueback herring and alewives, which leave Narragansett Bay each spring and enter the brook at Mill Cove. They swim upstream to their spawning waters in Warwick Pond and Spring Green Pond.

In recent years, the number of fish returning to the brook has plummeted, according to the Buckeye Brook Coalition, an environmental group recognized by the state as a local watershed council. Among the suspected causes are pollution, commercial fishing at sea, and population increases among predators.

Buckeye Brook crosses airport property in Warwick and receives storm runoff from the tarmac at Green, runoff that contains glycol-based chemicals that airlines use to de-ice planes.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday the city asked to be recognized as a party to the talks over the future of the brook "because we're not getting answers" on whether the DEM and the Airport Corporation can resolve their differences.

"We were hoping there would be some kind of consensus between DEM and RIAC and they would be showing us they can work together on these issues and that hasn't been happening," Avedisian said.

DEM spokeswoman Gail Mastrati said yesterday the agency had set a March 27 hearing on whether it will recognize the city and the Conservation Law Foundation as intervenors in the case.

In related news, the DEM on Monday held a hearing in Narragansett on its proposal to ban the taking of herring and alewives from waterways statewide.

Mastrati said about 50 people attended and the agency received 62 written comments.

"There was overwhelming support" for ending the fishing season on the species, she said.

The state Marine Fisheries Council was expected to make a recommendation immediately after the hearing but was unable to meet for lack of a quorum.

"They will reconvene on April 3, discuss the matter, vote on it and then the recommendation will go to the [DEM] director" for his signature, Mastrati said.

Avedisian said the city supports a ban on taking alewives and blueback herring, steps that Massachusetts and Connecticut took in recent years.

Steve Insana, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, represented the group at Monday's hearing. He said yesterday, "There's a dramatic decline in the stock and the fish we are getting are smaller. There's something going on somewhere and there's going to have to be a lot more research done to find out what's happening."

The annual herring and alewives run in Buckeye Brook is expected to start in the next several weeks.