CRMC's Special Area Management Plans

Grover Fugate, Executive Director
RI Coastal Resources Management Council

Grover Fugate earned undergraduate degrees in natural resource management from the University of Connecticut and in public administration from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He earned an MBA from Memorial University. Fugate has worked at CRMC since 1986. He is a guest lecturer at URI and Roger Williams University and is a trainer for integrated coastal management at the URI Coastal Resources Center.

In 1977, in response to growing concern about the apparent degradation of water quality in the salt ponds, the RI Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) held a public workshop in Charlestown, Rhode Island, to discuss ideas for state policies and regulations to protect and manage coastal areas and their uses. This was the first time that residents and local officials publicly voiced their concerns for the salt ponds and their ideas for avoiding further degradation. Public interest provided the impetus for a pilot project that resulted in the publication of an ecological history of the salt ponds entitled An Elusive Compromise: Rhode Island Coastal Ponds and Their People, by Virginia Lee (Coastal Resources Center).
      At that time, formerly abundant fish and shellfish stocks were disappearing and others were declining. Jetties were causing sedimentation within the salt ponds. Many ponds did not have safe access to the ocean, and delta formation was altering water circulation, causing further sedimentation of large areas.
      Water pollution seemed to be more widespread than in the past; bacterial contamination was a threat to larger shellfishing areas; and eutrophic conditions were degrading fish and shellfish habitats and the scenic quality of the ponds.
      The ecosystem's capacity to absorb waste and provide potable drinking water was being threatened by increased development. Farmlands and woodlands that provided character and beauty were being sacrificed for new residential development.
      Hurricanes were a recurring problem for the south shore. Finally, competition among aquaculture, commercial and recreational fisheries, recreational boating, and other uses required management.
      A major four-year inter-disciplinary research project funded primarily by RI Sea Grant and CRMC was undertaken from 1978 to 1982. The issues raised in 1977 were evaluated, the conditions of the salt ponds were documented, and major trends were described. Results from this study were the foundation for the Salt Pond Region Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), a watershed-based plan and regulatory document. (see "Creating SAMP.")
      SAMP recognized how water quality, land use, habitat, storm hazards, and geology all interact on an ecosystem level to impact the health of the salt ponds.
      The salt ponds are coastal lagoons---shallow, productive marine embayments separated from the ocean by barrier spits. Although the physical characteristics vary among salt ponds, all provide important ecosystem and habitat functions, including prime habitat for commercial and recreational fin and shellfish, resting and feeding stops for water fowl migrating along the Atlantic flyway, and protected waters for a variety of human uses. A commercial fishing port, the Block Island ferry terminal, wind surfing, boating, fishing, water skiing, and the enjoyment of nature are all supported by the salt ponds. The ponds are an important factor in the quality of life for local residents and a prime recreational attraction for tourists in the region.
      SAMP is part of CRMC's ongoing responsibility under both state and federal laws. CRMC has been empowered by a Rhode Island statute to develop management programs for the protection and enhancement of the state's coastal resources.
      The development of the Salt Pond SAMP, adopted by CRMC in 1984, incorporated a diversity of management issues into a strategy anchored in CRMC's mandate "to preserve, protect, develop, and, where possible, restore the coastal resources of the state." The geographic focus of the plan was the watershed of the individual ponds, including the barrier beaches that separate the salt ponds from the ocean. A central purpose of SAMP was to coordinate a management strategy that independent regulatory programs would contribute to.
      The primary focus of the initial SAMP was water quality. The major water pollution problems in the region were directly related to the density and distribution of development within the watersheds of the salt ponds.
      SAMP also addressed the pressure to develop lots with wetlands, poor drainage, 10 percent or greater slopes, and high flood zones. Zoning recommendations were made to the towns. Other controls included local soil erosion and sediment control ordinances; Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) construction setbacks and standards; CRMC setbacks, prohibitions, and permit stipulations regarding structure placement; and wetland restrictions and drainage requirements.
      SAMP is effective because local communities complied with the recommended two-acre minimum housing lot size. Potential increase in building density in the salt pond watersheds was reduced dramatically. Local municipalities also agreed to uphold CRMC policies and standards regarding land-use, storm-water, individual septic disposal systems, construction, and other resource management issues, for projects that are not subject to CRMC authority.
      CRMC addressed pollution issues by requiring denitrification units in areas around the ponds, requiring buffer zones, and applying soil erosion and storm-water management standards. CRMC initiated harbor management planning to help municipalities organize mooring fields.
      The Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act requires towns to complete comprehensive plans. The Land Development and Subdivision Review Enabling Act of 1992 provides for a joint pre-application review of major land development or subdivision applications. These land-use management tools are a single, integrated approach to state oversight of local land and water uses.

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