Mystic — The Mystic and Pawcatuck rivers and the shoreline from Noank to Westerly should get cleaner this summer.
This morning Clean the Bay, a Rhode Island nonprofit organization that works to remove large debris from waterways and shoreline areas, announced at Mystic River Park that it has begun using a $69,700 federal grant to remove debris such as abandoned boats, pieces of dock, tires and other items from these waters. The group and its partners said the debris not only poses a threat to maritime safety and water quality but can hurt the local economy and tourism.
The organization, which has done four similar operations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that removed 1,750 tons of debris, will be assisted here by Save the Bay and Stonington-based Clean Up Sound and Harbors, which will organize volunteers for shoreside cleanup and help identify larger items to be removed.
Nine harbormasters from Noank to Westerly have also been helping Clean the Bay identify the location of debris.
The grant, which comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be combined with matching in-kind contributions from the groups, towns and businesses, such as marinas. The towns of Groton and Stonington have agreed to help dispose of debris.
Clean The Bay’s executive director, Kent Dresser, said he already has started using the organization’s 30-foot boat — which can access water as shallow as one foot — to remove debris. He said the work will continue along the length of the Mystic River, up the Pawcatuck River and along the shoreline from Noank to Westerly through August.
CUSH, meanwhile, is organizing shoreline cleanups and will be posting information at www.cushinc.org.
Wendy Mackie, the outgoing executive director at Clean The Bay, who is now the CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, said Clean The Bay decided to expand its efforts into Connecticut so it could competitive for new grants while still staying close to its base in Bristol, R.I.
She said NOAA sees Clean the Bay’s marine debris removal work as a model project that it would like to see replicated in other places.
NOAA has provided grants totaling $683,000 for five of Clean the Bay’s debris removal projects.
During this morning’s press conference, state and local officials praised the project and the cooperation between the different organizations.
Mackie said the issue of marine debris has become a mainstream topic of late, being featured in television shows and national news programs.
“It not only damages coastal nursery habitat for fish but endangers human life when boaters come in contact with it,” said Bryan Deangelis, a NOAA fisheries biologist.
Dave Prescott, the South County coastkeeper for Save the Bay, said clean ocean water “is the greatest legacy we can leave our children and future generations. Partnerships like this bring us closer to our goal every day.”
Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek called the project a crucial one for the town as marine economy is the town’s “bread and butter.”
“Our tourism is based on that,” he said.
Fran Hoffman, the president of CUSH, said Mystic harbormaster Paul Watts told her the project is something he had been waiting for.
“Well be able to clean up things that have been here for years,” Hoffman quoted him as saying.