Stormwater plan would transform downtown along Main Street | Daily news alerts

ByShannon J. Cortes

Jul 14, 2022

WEST — A concept stormwater master plan for the downtown area along Main Street is being developed.

Once implemented, the plan is expected to transform the area from an area dominated by asphalt to an area with trees and plantings that reduce flooding, improve the water quality of the Pawcatuck River, provide habitat for pollinators and birds, improve air quality and add beauty and pedestrians. ease in the economic center of the city.

Gina Fuller, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District and town resident, and Rene Stoops, municipal liaison officer for the district, discussed the project with the city council at its Monday meeting. The conservation district and the city are partners in the project.

The Westerly Land Trust’s community garden on Main Street serves as an example, Fuller said, of ways to add green to a street filled with large parking lots bare of trees, grass and flowers. City officials have long discussed ways to improve the aesthetics of Main Street and are working with the state’s Department of Environmental Management to improve the quality of stormwater draining from the street and flow into the river.

The scheme also ‘fulfills many of the action elements of your overall plan and is also something that many of your town center businesses, including the Westerly Land Trust and the Economic Development Commission, have been working to ‘achieve,’ Fuller said.

The project also aims to improve resilience to protect the Main Street Corridor from rising sea levels and increased storm surges while improving public access to the river. The street’s tendency to flood should also be alleviated, Fuller said.

Westerly Resilient Riverfront Renewal, the recently bequeathed name of the project, will also help build a sense of place for the Main Street area, Fuller said.

Landscape architecture and engineering firm Fuss and O’Neil has been hired to help develop the plan which is expected to incorporate a variety of green infrastructure features along streets and on municipal and private properties. Landlords along the street have been cooperative and enthusiastic and will have final authority over potential changes to their property, Fuller said.

“We are delighted with the cooperation we have had with the various owners,” said Fuller.

An earlier phase of the project provided training in conceptual stormwater design through a grant from the Southern New England Program. Based on that, Fuller said, the district and the city have brought together planning and implementation funding from the state Department of Transportation, the city, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank and the program of the Narragansett Bay Estuary.

The project is also expected to help the state DOT meet a goal of reducing the volume of the storm sewer outlet from the causeway to the river. Decrease is set as a goal under a consent decree with the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The executive order relates to EPA allegations that the DOT failed to comply with conditions of a stormwater discharge permit from small municipal storm sewer systems related to impaired water, detection, and elimination of illegal discharges; pollution prevention by street sweeping; and inspection and maintenance of sumps and other components of the drainage system. The Pawcatuck River is considered impaired due to high levels of bacteria.

Stoops said the district received comments from area residents who said they did not feel safe walking along Main Street. The project, by making it easier to walk in the area, will change that and boost the economy, she said.

“People will want to hang out downtown more and visit more businesses,” Stoops said.

Councilman Christopher Duhamel noted that the city, like the state, is under pressure to improve how stormwater, which carries pollutants, is treated before it empties into the river.

“I am grateful to the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District and Gina Fuller who leads it. She is one of the most important people in town,” Duhamel said. “It’s a requirement; DOT, EPA, and the city are required to make these improvements. For her, coming to have people work together and find funding is really helpful for the people of Westerly.”

Fuller said the project will serve as a model for work that may take place in other parts of the city and other municipalities in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

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