PAWTUCKET – A new $300,000 grant will go toward making the city’s future soccer stadium project more sustainable and environmentally conscious and could set a precedent for future developments in Pawtucket, say city officials.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Program watershed grant will go toward improving water quality to the Seekonk River as well as the construction of a public park and “wetlands walk” boardwalk “over (and through) the area to provide a bird’s-eye view of how nature improves water quality in stormwater management,” as part of developer Fortuitous Partner’s project to build an 11,000-seat soccer stadium and other amenities in downtown Pawtucket along the river, according to a description from the grant application.
“The project has a tremendous synergy between health and the environment,” reads the application.
As part of the Tidewater Landing project, the project proposed in the grant will “redirect some of the flow from city property and local roadways to a water quality basin to help improve water quality flow to the Seekonk River.”
The riverwalk will serve as a connection to the city’s Festival Pier and will also link two schools, Varieur Elementary School and Blackstone Academy Charter School. As part of the grant project, city officials are hoping to have students from the two schools create an educational video on the benefits of providing water quality improvements to the river.
Among the benefits, according to the grant application, SNEP funding for this project will provide immediate water quality benefits to the Seekonk River with the construction of the stormwater management area. The bioretention basins will be designed to capture a “water quality capture volume” outlined by the Rhode Island Stormwater Management Manual on runoff from city-owned areas that do not currently have any type of treatment prior to discharge, states the application.
The funding will also support sustainable partnerships between the city, developer, permitting agencies, schools, and local stakeholders; provide multiple benefits for communities and the environment; foster environmental equity; enhance coastal habitats; reduce nutrients on coastal ecosystems; improve urban landscapes with nature-based solutions; communicate these innovative approaches; and provide educational opportunities for visitors, residents, and schools.
As the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, Pawtucket was an early adopter of using innovations such as sanitary and storm sewers that would convey flows to the state’s sewer treatment facility. Because of how they were designed, raw sewage flows directly to the Seekonk River, according to the application.
While improvements have been made to “eliminate the possibility to overflow raw sewage to the river in the city,” more work still needs to be done.
Jeanne Boyle, director of commerce for the city of Pawtucket, said she hopes this Tidewater Landing project will serve as a model to show that economic development and environmental protection can go hand in hand.
The Tidewater Landing project is a huge economic opportunity for the city, she said, adding that it’s helping the city achieve its long-term vision of cleaning up the river and returning it to public access. “No one has had much access to the riverfront,” she said.
“We’ve been really impressed working with this developer and their commitment to sustainable practices,” she added. “We’re so thankful for the funding. Every amount of money makes a big difference.”
While stormwater management may not be exciting to many residents, Boyle said, it’s important to the restoration of the area and improving the quality of the river.
Dan Kroeber, of Fortuitous Partners, explained that right now a lot of stormwater goes straight into the river but that will be cleaned with the new water basin. “For us, sustainability is really critical,” he told The Breeze. “Ultimately we want to clean up the river. It’s a vibrant opportunity that’s untapped.”
Some of the grant funding will be used in the coming months for the planning stage while some of the money will go toward the implementation sometime next year, he said. “We’re very thankful for this program.”
The grant announcement was made at a press conference last Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in downtown Pawtucket. Among the speakers were Tom Ardito, of Restore America’s Estuaries and director of SNEP Watershed Grants; Sen. Jack Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who spearheaded the creation of SNEP for coastal watershed restoration in 2012; Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien; Rep. David Cicilline; Rep. Jim Langevin; Ken Moraff, water division director for EPA Region 1; and Jennifer Paquet, senior environmental planner at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Water Resources.
Federal grants totaling $1.75 million were awarded to 14 local organizations. SNEP watershed grants fund regional projects in areas such as water monitoring, watershed planning, nutrient and/or septic management, and resilience to climate change, according to a release.
“I would like to thank SNEP for their dedication to Pawtucket and this funding opportunity,” said Grebien. “Tidewater is an amazing opportunity for our city, and we were thankful to have everyone here in Pawtucket today with the project as a backdrop to announce these grants.”