Clean the Bay
WESTERLY, RHODE ISLAND (The Westerly Sun) - Josh Featherstone walks along the banks of the Pawcatuck River, bends under a sprawling wild bush and emerges with a 4-foot-long chunk of Styrofoam that he tosses onto the deck of a 30-foot aluminum landing craft.
Featherstone, 19, of East Providence, repeats a similar movement over and over as he and Kent Dresser work to rid the banks of the Pawcatuck from all sorts of debris. Last week, they worked along the banks of the river adjacent to River Bend Cemetery.
The work is part of Clean Sweep 5, an operation being conducted by Clean the Bay, the nonprofit agency for which Dresser serves as executive director. Clean Sweep 5 started in June with work on the Connecticut side of the Pawcatuck and has now moved to the Westerly side of the river for the next 30 days. The work is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Most of the debris is wood from broken docks, decks and pallets. Other common items are plastic lawn furniture and motor vehicle tires, both with and without rims. On a recent morning, the debris included a beer can and the washed out bottom half of a child’s plastic doll.
Viking Marina on Margin Street has given Dresser space to tie up the boat and is also allowing Clean the Bay to keep two trash bins for river debris on its property.
Dresser is working to develop a formal methodology for the cleanup operation. He hopes to be as thorough as possible, but said a realistic mindset is also necessary.
“As you do it, you become aware that you can’t solve every problem that this ecosystem has in one afternoon,” he says.
Dresser estimated that he and his crew pull about 2 tons of debris off the river’s banks daily. To collect that much, he carefully studies the shore and analyzes tide schedules to maximize the crew’s opportunities. In a recent four-day period, Dresser said the team collected 6 tons of debris. Dresser expects to be on the Pawcatuck in Westerly through the month.
Dresser noses the boat into the shore, and he and Featherstone scan the shoreline or step off to inspect.
Dresser says he has occasionally been asked whether the abundance of wood found on the banks presents an environmental hazard. Dresser says much of the wood is treated with chemicals that are likely to leach into the water and the ground. Large pieces of wood and wooden structures are sawed into smaller pieces with a chainsaw. Older driftwood is left unless it appears to present a navigation hazard, Dresser says.
Most of the debris is the result of what Dresser, a Newport resident, calls “unintentional dumping” caused by storms. Judging by its location, north of the average high tide line, much of the current debris appears to be left over from the floods of March 2010, Dresser says.
David Prescott of Save the Bay, an agency that is separate from but supportive of Clean the Bay, says Clean the Bay provides an invaluable service. The two groups first worked together in the Westerly-Pawcatuck area immediately after the March 2010 floods. Clean the Bay returned in September 2010. At that time, Prescott says, Clean the Bay scooped up about 7 tons of debris in just four hours.
“We can get a lot of the small stuff, but we really aren’t outfitted to pick up all of the big marine debris that is out there. That’s where Clean the Bay provides a really great service to the community and to the environment,” Prescott says.
Dresser, who also runs Confident Captain, a mariner training business he started in 2002, hopes to hone the cleaning operation to a point where its serves as a model for similar efforts throughout the country.
“This is the maritime capital of the world, this state and much of New England, really,” Dresser says. “We should be looked at as a leader for how to do this.”
Dresser says he hoped to attract the attention of engineers interested in possibly developing a vacuum or conveyor system for capturing some of the smaller items that are more difficult to pick up by hand.
Save the Bay and Stonington-based Clean up Sound and Harbors partnered with Clean the Bay on the Connecticut portion of the Clean Sweep 5 grant. EZ Waste Systems Inc. of Westerly is helping to support the Westerly portion of the Pawcatuck River cleanup.
The first four “sweep” grants covered the cost of cleaning operations at Narragansett Bay and Point Judith.
Dresser, 37, started working in marine-related jobs as a teenager. At 14, he worked for Safe Sea, a commercial marine towing business, as a dispatcher and dockhand. He later operated the company’s tow vessels and remains on call for the company.
“I’ve made a career of working on the water and it certainly doesn’t hurt to give something back,” Dresser says.
Clean the Bay was created in 2005 as a nonprofit group dedicated to improving coastline conditions. The group’s new website address is cleanthebay.us. The group is working on removing content from an old website with a slightly different address.
Copyright 2013 The Westerly Sun
Updated 290 days ago Article ID# 1708405
Clean the Bay