Manville Landing, boat launch opens

Manville Landing, boat launch opens

MORE ABOUT THE BOAT RAMP: Several readers have noted there are heavy poles that block vehicle access to the ramp. State officials tell The Breeze that is deliberate to limit the size of boats that can be launched. They want only kayaks, canoes and very small row boats that can be carried down the pathways and set into the water.

CUMBERLAND - It was 20 years in the making, and topped $1.5 million before the final gravel pathways were laid this spring, but the town took ownership this week of the Manville Landing after officials checked off the last items on a construction punchlist that for a while seemed to have no end.

This new public park, about two acres, sits on what was the former mill pond that was part of the system powering the Manville Jenckes Mill across the street.

Along with some picnic tables and stone benches are a floating dock that fishermen are already using, and a sloped landing for launching canoes, kayaks and dinghies.

For boaters, it's the town's first and only access point to the Blackstone River and just the second one - with the Central Falls Landing - available in the entire Blackstone Valley.

Next spring, look for the Explorer riverboat to dock at the park and offer river excursions between Manville and Woonsocket by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.

For visitors to the area, wrought-iron fencing frames the river and dam and signs with historical information are coming soon from the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission.

Few, if any, current town officials were around back in the early 1990s when the nearby quarry owners donated the park area and the first federal funds were made available for the preliminary design.

Bob Billington was a young president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, a post he still holds.

The project began with plenty of optimism, he recalls.

He recalls that David Bouley was the town planner when state officials first inquired about creating a park there.

"Hell, yes, we said," Billington recalls. "Let's take it. It will be a great river access point.

"Little did we know it would take another 20 years."

Billington recalls securing $50,000 to $60,000 in federal funds for this project, an enormous sum, it seemed at the time.

Two decades later, it's a more savvy Billington who says now that every new park or piece of bikeway comes with unknown contaminants from the valley's industrial era.

"Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would cost so much," he told The Breeze this week. "We had $50,000. I thought we were dealing with really big money, way more than we would need.

"But we would be so wrong."

He says now, "You can't touch land without dredging up an amazing amount of problems. Our money doesn't go very far.

"It's ridiculous what we have to spend to reclaim land and be able to gain access to the river. We spent a real lot of money to make it usable."

For Manville Landing, the problem was the filled mill pond where contractors found charred pieces of the mill tossed there during the cleanup of the great fire of 1958 that destroyed the Manville Jenckes Mill.

State Department of Transportation figures requested by The Breeze show expenses total $1,541,375 beginning with the $222,017 design by Vanesse Hangen Brustlin Inc. and ending with the $8,780 porous pathways requested by the Rhode Island Historic and Heritage Preservation Commission.

Most of the funding came through the federal Transportation Enhancement Program.

A. Korey was the first contractor, awarded a $502,494 contract in 2007, but only collecting $82,857 before going bankrupt and giving up the project.

Site Tech Corp. then won the contract initially for $203,823.

But in 2009, contaminants including lead, arsenic, and petroleum hydrocarbons were found in the soil.

Cleanup in 2010 brought work to a halt for two years and cost taxpayers $506,272.

The entire site is covered now with a webbed cap topped by 18 inches of loam.

Site Tech's renewed contract added $515,495 to the project.

Billington concedes now, after all the work, "When you look at Manville Landing, there's not much there. It's pretty basic."

Still, he compliments DOT. "I'm pleased the DOT didn't weaken, and stayed with it.

Now when we talk about landings, we're a lot wiser now, it's let's dip our toe in the water first and if it's going to be difficult, let's move on."

While Cumberland invested no money in the $1.5 million park, it now will assume some expense.

Acting town engineer Eugene Jeffers said the park is currently open 24-7, but access may be limited to dawn to dusk requiring someone to lock and unlock the gate.

Jeffers expects to add a couple of trash barrels that will need emptying.

The floating dock, which is anchored to pilings that stand a few inches above the 100-year storm mark, will likely be removed by the town during winter months.

And Public Works superintendent Frank Stowik said his department will add this park to the 30 properties - cemeteries, ballfields and other parks - that a two-man crew currently keeps mown.

No toilet facilities are available, so town officials expect only short-term picnickers and sightseers.

Back in 2007, when Korey Construction started, 300 condominiums, with a restaurant and other commercial structures, were approved for the quarry that borders the park.

That project has never been pursued and quarry operations continue there.