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News Release
RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462

For Release:

October 19, 2000


Sally Spadaro 222-4700 ext. 2426
Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418


PROVIDENCE Ė The Department of Environmental Management this morning began construction of its long-planned aquatic research center at Fort Wetherill in Jamestown. An 11 a.m. groundbreaking ceremony with local, state and federal officials and representatives from the RI Historical Preservation Commission, was held to mark the occasion. The center, designed as a first class marine research operation, is sorely needed by the Department and will assist in advancing sustainable fishing goals and programs for decades to come.

DEM Director Jan Reitsma said, "We could not be celebrating the start of this construction if so many partners had not spent so many years of dedicated planning to address the varied concerns that arose surrounding the constructive re-use of this facility. I am sure that when the new aquatic resource center is up and running, it will prove a valuable service in protecting, managing, and improving the stateís marine resources for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders."

The Fort Wetherill site has been significant since colonists first used it for defense of Narragansett Bay during the Revolutionary War. With its magnificent overlook, it has been used for defense purposes when necessary up to and through the Second World War, when 1,200 men of the 243rd Regiment were garrisoned there.

"It is fitting," Reitsma said, "that it will again be used for defending the Bay Ė this time protecting its marine resources by giving our biologists the tools they need to conduct the research to manage and improve the stateís fisheries."

Planning and design of the facility has been sensitive to the residents and town officials of Jamestown, the RI Historic Preservation Commission and the National Park Service, all of whom participated in the design process. DEM worked closely with town officials and individual citizens of Jamestown to be sure the new use of the facility would fit in with the character of the town. The Department also worked closely with the Historic Preservation Commission and the National Park Service to maintain the historic character of the structures.

The historic fortifications are central to the design plans, but are in a severe state of disrepair. DEMís plans call for complete restoration of three existing military buildings to protect the military integrity of the site and the adjoining parking area and park recreational land.

Renovation of the existing military cable tank room and mine storage room will provide office space for 15 staff members of the marine section of DEMís Division of Fish and Wildlife and two marine laboratories. The smaller loading room, now in a state of severe deterioration, will be completely rebuilt and be used by staff from the Departmentís Division of Parks and Recreation who maintain Fort Wetherill State Park. Historical artifacts from that building will be salvaged, reused, and displayed in the rebuilt building. Renovations to the site will also provide a protected deep-water port for four Fish and Wildlife boats and a boat repair facility.

For the public, there will be improved parking and access to a public fishing wharf, restroom facilities, and about a seven-acre addition of land and trail connections to Fort Wetherill State Park, which includes the best view of the Narragansett Bay West Passage available within the park. The facilities will be handicapped-accessible, and will include a low volume operated lift in the aquatic research center.

The marine biologists who will work there are responsible for managing the stateís marine resources, including finfish, shellfish and crustaceans. That staff, Reitsma said, is currently housed in two facilities in Wickford and Jerusalem that are in serious disrepair. They have no saltwater laboratory for research, insufficient office space, and no shore facility to support research vessel and sampling equipment, he said.

The new laboratories will allow them to conduct research in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island, the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Environmental Protection Agency; and address issues specific to Rhode Island fish and shellfish management such as age and growth studies for winter flounder, lobster and quahog. The Fort Wetherill location provides excellent water quality for the laboratories and for aquaculture research, and is centrally located for fieldwork in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound.

Robinson Green and Berretta were the architects for the project. The contractor is Berkshire Construction Company. The $4,200,000 cost is being shared by Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration, Rhode Island Capitol Funds, state commercial fishing license receipts, and the Governorís Commission on Disabilities.

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