A temporary, one-way shipping lane is slated to be opened on the western side of the Sakonnet River channel once Cardi Corporation moves forward with placing steel girders in the center of the river for the new bridge.
Closing the main shipping channel is proposed for one month. However, based on feedback from a public hearing about the closure, held at Wednesday, as well as the impending impact of Hurricane Irene this weekend, the date of starting that closure could change. The United States Coast Guard will also take the public’s feedback to tweak its map of the temporary channel, which will be distributed to the public.
Nearly 50 people – residents and waterfront business owners of the Sakonnet River – attended Wednesday night’s meeting held by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Tiverton Harbor and Coastal Waters Management Commission. Most attendees were satisfied with the proposed temporary channel, rather than a complete closure.
Wednesday’s meeting came after a held last week in which Cardi, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Tiverton’s town administrator, harbormaster, harbor commission and town officials from Portsmouth came together to discuss the proposed river channel closure.
“The goal is to find common ground for all competing uses of that waterway,” said Paul Lattanzi, commander of the Coast Guard’s Sector Southeastern New England.
That balance is catering to the needs of building a new bridge for a busy Route 24 as well as to mariners who use the river.
Lattanzi said they explored the east and west passages last week underneath the bridge. He said the east side, Tiverton’s, has strong tides and currents and did not seem viable from a safety standpoint.
The west side, Portsmouth’s, has an old railroad bed and the current is less strong. Lattanzi said they would like to set up the temporary channel there.
“We are approaching one-way vessel traffic,” he said. “The channel does get narrow.”
The space between those piers is about 100 feet. Lattanzi said they will be installing green and red buoys in the new waterway and shifting the channel marker on the north side of the bridge to provide a safer angle of approach. The maximum clearance height for the channel is 47 feet, and any vessels exceeding that height will have to go around, he added.
“It may be problematic for two-way traffic,” he said.
Coming from the north in Mount Hope Bay, a 90-degree turn will also be necessary when traveling in between the riverbed and the bridge. Mariners will be advised to radio in a security call on Channel 16 when approaching, Lattanzi said. The Coast Guard is recommending certain tides to pass through: a two-hour window in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Other than that, mariners will have to use the temporary channel at their own risk. Electronic billboards have been proposed to be placed on and in Stone Bridge, as well as on the Mount Hope Bay side, to warn incoming mariners of the new passage.
“I don’t want to be making two 90 degree turns in that,” said Charles Smith, of Tiverton. “You get knuckleheads coming through there that have a not a clue what’s going on, with no radio. They’re going to get hurt.”
Brandon Kidd, owner of in Portsmouth, said he left thinking a compromise was met.
"A full closure would have affected everybody," he said. "I think it met people in the middle. I understand there's a bridge that needs building."
Ken Hilton, owner of in Tiverton, said the huge impact from the closure will be sailboat owners will quality yachts.
“There’s a net gain for Cardi and not a net gain for boaters,” he said, adding, as did other public speakers, if the company will be working “around the clock” to get the one-month work completed.
Cardi Project Supervisor Paul Grimaldi promised the closure is only for a maximum of 30 days.
“Once we go this, there won’t be a channel closure again,” he said. “This is just for the erection of the main span."
Tiverton Harbormaster Dave Vannier and Rep. John Edwards (D-Tiverton, Portsmouth) both questioned Grimaldi on whether they are ready to work on Sundays if rough weather entered into the 30-day period, as well as on a greater extent, to get to complete the bridge.
Grimaldi affirmed they will do that if necessary.
Concerns were raised about Hurricane Irene and about giving more than 24 hours notice to pull boats. The storm is currently forecasted to hit the area Sunday afternoon. Grimaldi said they do not plan to move their largest pieces of equipment from the river, stating it has weathered two previous storms.
Residents from Tiverton's Riverside Drive area, who have been dealing with road closures since the Sakonnet River Bridge construction began, said they were frustrated this was only the second public meeting held about the bridge.