Stonington – Mystic River Harbormaster Paul Watts knows the tidal waterway perhaps better than anyone else, so he’s quick to recognize when something significant happens there.
The river cleanup that took place over the past two months, thanks to three organizations and more than two dozen volunteers, is just such an occurrence.
“I’ve been on the river for 40 years, and harbormaster for eight or nine, and I don’t recall a major cleanup like this, not at this level,” he said Wednesday. “It’s been a really good effort.”
On Wednesday, the Rhode Island-based nonprofit company Clean the Bay finished its part of the cleanup for the season by hauling some broken docks in the river onto shore at Shaffer’s Boat Livery. From there they were to be taken away for disposal.
Joe Mariani, captain and operations manager of Clean the Bay, said the river and its adjacent marshes are now rid of a derelict sailboat and sections of other boats, pieces of docks and pilings, broken rafts and other large debris, thanks to the work of his three-man crew this month. They used a 56-foot mechanized landing vessel with a bow ramp and special equipment for loading and unloading to lift and remove the large items.
“Most of it we pulled out by hand, after cutting it up with chain saws,” he said, adding that cranes had to be used on some of the larger items.
He estimates that a total of six tons of debris was removed.
Clean the Bay was hired to remove the debris as part of a collaborative project with two environmental groups. Save the Bay, a Rhode Island-based organization that focuses on Narragansett Bay but also works in Little Narragansett Bay and located between Stonington and Westerly, joined with a Stonington-based group, CUSH, or Clean Up Stonington Harbor, for the project.
A $70,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s marine debris program paid for Clean the Bay’s work. This was supplemented with about $75,000 in in-kind services from marinas, volunteers and the town, said Wendy Mackie, executive director of Clean the Bay. This fall, the company worked on the section of the river south of the Interstate 95 bridge, but plans to return in the spring to remove debris from the northern part, Mackie said.
Gracelyn Guyol, CUSH president, said the Mystic River collaboration grew out of a Pawcatuck River cleanup that Save the Bay and her organization did last year. Save the Bay wrote the grant for the Mystic River cleanup, and CUSH supplied the volunteers, she said.
On Sept. 18, she and 26 volunteers cleaned about 4,200 pounds of trash from the river and its banks, making note of locations of any large debris that would be left for Clean the Bay to remove.
Volunteers walked the shoreline in boots, or paddled in small boats to reach piles of trash, enjoying the group camaraderie while making a visible improvement in their environment, Guyol said. They bagged cans, bottles, fishing line, fast-food containers, syringes, fishing gear, six-pack holders, Styrofoam, car batteries, building materials, light bulbs and a rusty bicycle, among many other items.
“It was fun,” Guyol said. “It’s very satisfying.”
Watts noted that cleaning the waterway is not only good for the river, removing pollutants and trash that can harm wildlife. Large debris can also be a hazard to boaters, particularly if it is partially submerged.