Torgan praises coalition for raising awareness of Buckeye Brook
by John Howell
Warwick Beacon Online - Rhody Beat
Sep 21, 2010

WITH A COMMON CAUSE: Paul Earnshaw, left, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, and John Torgan, Baykeeper with Save the Bay, talk at Sunday’s fundraiser at the home of George and Stephanie Shuster. slideshow

John Torgan, Baykeeper for Save the Bay, knows how important Buckeye Brook is to Narragansett Bay. The brook is the bay’s largest free-flowing natural herring run.

But, as Torgan said Sunday, others must also understand the importance of the brook.

“You put this place on the map,” Torgan said of the Buckeye Brook Coalition Sunday. Torgan was the keynote speaker at the coalition’s annual outing and fundraiser hosted by George and Stephanie Shuster at their home overlooking Mill Cove and the bay. The event included live music and displays pertaining to the brook and herring, a barbecue and games for the kids and served its purpose to bring coalition members, friends and elected officials together.

Torgan touched on the role the coalition is playing in its questioning the impact airport expansion will have on the herring run, the brook and its wetlands. He praised the passionate leadership of coalition president Paul Earnshaw.

Citing fish counts, Torgan raised unanswered questions as to why there has been such a dramatic decline in herring runs throughout the region. He called it a “crash,” with the overall count for herring down 95 percent in recent years.

Buckeye Brook appears to have “survived,” although fish counts are down over the seven years. In 2003 the count was 39,000, which dropped precipitously to 5,000 the following year. Counts have fluctuated since then. In 2005, numbers increased to 19,000, but then it dropped to 9,000 the next year. In 2009, it was up to 31,000 and then fell to 8,500 this year.

Higher water temperatures are one suggested reason. Another is an increase in predators, such as striped bass, that have seen a resurgence over the past three decades. There is also talk that offshore fishing is responsible. No one is sure.

Overall, Torgan said, Bay water quality has improved, which he believes can be attributed to the tunnels under Providence used to hold the storm water and sewer overflow for treatment instead of being dumped into the bay. Since that project came on line, Torgan said, bacteria numbers have dropped. Also, he observed the improved conditions have enabled the opening of additional shellfishing beds.

Earnshaw praised the work of Hendricken student Nathan Andrews, whose science project examined the impact de-icing fluid has on the brook. The fluid – glycol – flows into the brook from Green Airport. Andrews’ project won him the top prize in the state science fair. It placed fourth in the national competition’s environmental division.

Earnshaw thanked Mark McHugh for the gift of an aluminum boat that will become the Buckeye Brook debris barge. It will be used as volunteers clear the streambed of discarded tires and other junk.

Torgan also took the opportunity to promote Question 4 on the Nov. 2 ballot to provide $10 million for the purchase of the 83 acres of Rocky Point still under the control of the Small Business Administration as court appointed receiver. If approved by voters, the state would own the land if an agreement can be reached with the SBA.