Giving the brook a new look

01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Providence Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK -- There's nothing like a little trash to bring longtime opponents together.

More than 50 volunteers from local environmental groups and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation teamed up on Saturday to clean Buckeye Brook, long a point of contention between residents and the airport.

The turnout was the highest in the eight-year history of the event, and the Buckeye Brook Coalition used its largest number of volunteers to clean not only the brook, but its streams and tributaries and much of its watershed.

"Buckeye Brook hasn't looked better in my lifetime. It's beautiful," said Steve Insana, president of the coalition.

During the winter months, the airport uses a solution containing propylene glycol to de-ice its airplanes. Some of this chemical finds its way into Buckeye Brook, to the chagrin of groups including the coalition, the Conservation Law Foundation and Save the Bay, which complained to the state. In 2003, Save the Bay and the Airport Corporation reached an agreement to reduce chemical flow into the brook -- as part of which, the airport underwrites and helps coordinate the annual cleanup.

Insana said that efforts like this are bringing the two sides closer, especially when he sees high-level airport executives slogging in the mud cleaning the brook.

The cleanup is technically a celebration of Earth Day, but is scheduled early every year so as not to interfere with the herring run up the brook.

Several species of fish enter the brook at Mill Cove, on Narragansett Bay, to reach spawning waters in Spring Green Pond and Warwick Pond.

The cleanup crew took reeds and weeds and other plants out of the brook to make it easier for the fish to get through, but the main focus was on trash. The volunteers removed shopping carts, tires and other large debris from in and around the brook.

The crew had one special target in this year's cleanup. A 20-foot fiberglass boat, long since abandoned, had clogged the mouth of Mill Cove for months. Several volunteers dove into the water, tied a rope to the bow and dragged the boat out onto the shore.

Then, the crew cut up the boat with chainsaws.

All told, they collected more than 90 bags of trash and numerous items too big for bags. Yesterday morning, Warwick public works trucks hauled the trash to the state Central Landfill, in Johnston, for disposal, free of charge.

Insana said that the cleanup went so well that next year he hopes to bring vendors in and turn the event into a "Buckeye Brook Heritage Day," a celebration with vendors, radio stations, and events centered on the cleanup.