The Landscape of the Local Waterways is Ever-Changing
Our local waterways are changing - old bridges are gone, new bridges are coming - and the structures being built and moved change our perceptions while traveling by boat.
There are many changes taking place in and around our local waterways. First and foremost, there is an extremely large project right in front of us called the new Sakonnet River Bridge.
No doubt you have heard or have felt the pounding of the pilings being driven into the ground and have seen the disruption on Tiverton's Evans Avenue, Riverside Drive and in the Tiverton Basin. But have you seen the size of those big girder-type structures, which have been parked on the side of the highway and down around the waterfront?
That is one massive project, especially looking up at what is above you and considering the small area in which all of the work is going on. Some reports say the construction is ahead of schedule and we should be driving over the new bridge by May of 2012.
But first, let me talk about another project, which had an even bigger impact on me this summer. I heard on the radio the other day that as we get older, we tend not to like change. I don't know if I agree with that premise, completely, but there are certainly some things that we get used to seeing—or, in this case, not seeing.
I have been watching, for months now, the cooling towers being built at the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, MA. Driving over the Braga Bridge, I watched the towers edge their way up toward the sky. I even noted when the bright white lights of the construction scaffolding were replaced by the red collision avoidance marker lights you see on tall structures.
You may or may not know the reason behind the construction of the towers. The Environmental Protection Agency has required Dominion Energy, owners of the power plant, to significantly lower the amount of water used, as well as the temperature of the water the plant discharges back into Mount Hope Bay. The intake of large amounts of water and the discharge of heated water, according to studies, have had a big impact on fish population in the bay, especially on the winter flounder stock.
However, at 497 feet tall, the towers are nearly 70 feet taller than the tallest building in Providence, the Bank of America building, and according to some reports, they can be seen from more than 30 miles away. The towers are also the tallest man-made structures in Massachusetts, outside of Boston. And, as a closer point of reference, the towers are just over twice the height of the Braga Bridge, from which I had been watching their construction.
It didn't dawn on me, however, just how much of a change these towers would make from a mariner's perspective, until I happened to come north out of the Tiverton Basin in my inflatable this summer and saw the huge structures in front of me. Not that their size is necessarily a problem, it was just a shock seeing those two big towers where there had not been towers before. They are certainly a point of reference now for navigation purposes, a good reason to update your charts this winter.
And that made me think about some other recent—and, maybe, some not so recent—changes in our area which have affected navigation.
We have had a lot of bridge construction—and deconstruction—in our area over the years. Going back to the 1950s, there was the Stone Bridge, a steel-truss, double-roller drawbridge built by the state of Rhode Island in 1907. My father tells stories about driving over the very narrow bridge on his way to and from Newport before the current Sakonnet River Bridge was built. The center drawbridge span of the Stone Bridge was damaged by Hurricane Carol in 1954 and was finally closed and dismantled a few years later, when the Sakonnet River Bridge had been completed.
In 2006-07, there was the demolition of the old railroad bridge under the current Sakonnet River Bridge. The center-bearing, swing-truss bridge was built by the Pennsylvania Steel Company in 1899 and carried passenger and freight cars of the Old Colony & Newport Railroad to and from Aquidneck Island.
The swing span of the bridge was permanently moved to the open position in 1980 after it was damaged by an overweight train carrying military equipment. It was then damaged by a barge in 1988. Also, while the bridge was closed to rail traffic, the machine house was destroyed by fire.
The center steel section of the bridge was finally removed in late 2006 and the piers were destroyed by controlled explosions in early 2007. The center span's phosphor-bronze bearing was saved and given to the Portsmouth Historical Society.
Not only did the removal of that structure give a completely different look upon approaching the basin, but removing that big center span changed the flow of water through the basin. The flow of the water is now more skewed to the Portsmouth side of the basin and there now seems to be more "weather" there than before.
I have also been told stories about dinghies coming loose down river and ending up in a little area now formed by currents that tuck in behind the bridge just outside of the basin. There were several corroborating stories of such finds from different sources a couple of years back.
It is certainly a cleaner approach to the basin coming and going now, like a boulevard stretching out ahead of you. I still have not really gotten used to it. It is a much different look from the small passage that used to be there between the piers of the old bridge, where a wake from a boat passing the other way—and sometimes just the current funneling through the tight passage—could send you rocking and reeling.
I've not gotten used to the feel of the "new" harbor when sitting on the mooring, either. It doesn't feel like the snug harbor it used to be, since now the basin is open to both the north and the south.
One more quick note—I am a big fan of local news and information. I tell people they should keep abreast of what is going on in their community. Especially for boaters in a new harbor, I have suggested familiarizing themselves with service facilities, landmarks and current events. In fact, I think it was the subject of one of those maxims I spoke of a couple of columns ago.
Thus, it was kind of funny when my family and I visited The Boathouse Restaurant when it opened in the summer of 2003 and I noticed the dock they had built for vessels to tie up, as well as the dock for the residents of The Villages on Mt. Hope Bay and the mooring field that had developed between the docks and the bridge.
I remember when ships docked in that area to unload oil and for many years the abandoned docks stood there as a reminder. I knew the oil tanks were being dismantled and the soil remediated, and I knew The Villages on Mt. Hope Bay was being built, but again, the difference from a mariner's point of view had snuck up on me.
By definition, change means to give a completely different form or appearance to, but progress suggests forward movement or advancement. I think I am okay with many of these changes, as long as it means progress. Saving living creatures and taking out old rusty, broken or dangerous structures and replacing them with modern, state of the art technology or an attractive village, well, I'd call that progress.