Geary: Fish ladder project not dead
Geary: Fish ladder project not dead
PAWTUCKET - What's a few more years when you've been waiting for 14?
Frank Geary, of the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, said those behind the Blackstone River Fish Ladder Project since its inception in 1999 were "crushed" when a bid for the project came in last October "much higher than we expected," or nearly double the cost of what they thought it would for the first phase of the project.
Just one company, from Smithfield, submitted a bid to build two fish ladders, one at the Main Street dam and another just up the river at the Slater Mill dam, said Geary. The $7 million bid was far higher than the $4 million that backers had expected to spend on the project, which is planned to restore natural ecosystems along the Blackstone River and in Narragansett Bay.
"Have I given up on it? Nope. Do we still have the money? Yes we do," said Geary. "We have not given up on this project."
Geary and his colleagues say they expected a healthy competition for the fish ladder project, with many companies placing a bid. They now realize that the timing of the process may have hurt them, with the cleanup of Hurricane Sandy last year keeping so many companies busy for months and unable to think about extra projects.
According to Geary, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, which has been involved with the fish ladder project "from the beginning," have since agreed to take the fish ladder project over.
There is no timetable on when two new fish ladders in downtown Pawtucket will be built, as the Army Corps has to comb through all details of the project again.
"It's OK because we didn't expect it to be done right away," said Geary. "It's another bump in the road."
The fish ladder project would never have been a dream in the first place without the Army Corps, said Geary. It was the organization with 37,000 civilians and soldiers that even made the project possible in the first place, he said, helping make the new Lonsdale Marsh in Lincoln a habitable place for migratory fish once the fish ladder project is complete.
"Nothing would have happened without that," he said.
Some of the great benefits of having the Army Corps take the project over, said Geary, is that the organization will match 65 cents "of every dollar you have," said Geary.
According to the Army Corps website, one of the organization's biggest missions is "energizing the economy by dredging America's waterways to support the movement of critical commodities and providing recreation opportunities at our campgrounds, lakes and marinas."
Representatives for the Army Corps are now in the process of researching new ways of doing the fish ladder project, said Geary. It may be that they decide to scrap the previously planned step-like structures in favor of less expensive ramp-like structures.
"It's such a monumental project, they're going back to see if there's a simpler way," he said.
One of the biggest factors to the expensive number on last year's bid was the presence of Pawtucket Hydro, a power company at the Main Street falls, said Geary, and officials from the Army Corps will need to work through those issues to make the fish ladder project happen.
The Blackstone River becomes the Seekonk River just beyond the Main Street dam.
There is currently no timetable for when the two Pawtucket fish ladders will finally be built, said Geary. When they are complete, the Army Corps will build a third fish ladder at the Elizabeth Webbing dam in Central Falls. A fourth passageway around the Valley Falls dam will allow fish to finally get to their destination.
Once in the Lonsdale Marsh, say environmental experts, the laying of eggs by anadromous fish like herring and salmon can finally occur again more than 200 years after the old mills on the river were built, blocking fish from getting up the river. Anadromous fish are born in fresh water, then spend most of their lives in the sea before finally making the last exhausting voyage back to fresh water to spawn.
Typical fish ladders allow fish to flop their way up and over a dam, taking a short break in each new watery step.
The fish industry is responsible for tens of millions of dollars to the Rhode Island economy each year, according to members of the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone. When species like herring or shad, migratory fish that normally swim in salt water like Narragansett Bay but travel to fresh water to spawn more fish, have the ability to get upstream, they say the population should see a rapid expansion.