Easton’s Beach, Newport, R.I.

Middletown, RI – On Jan. 7, the Middletown town council approved funding to complete the installation of a project that will protect beachgoers and boaters from contaminated stormwater runoff. Some members of the town council were reluctant to approve this funding, despite the reduced risk of disease to visitors of Narragansett Bay.

The project was ultimately approved, however, because of language in the consent decree entered two years ago in NELC’s Clean Water Act suit against the town. As Town Administrator Shawn Brown forthrightly acknowledged during the council meeting, “It’s not that we want to do this project, but rather, the consent decree compels us to do it.”

In the lawsuit, filed in 2008 on behalf of Environment Rhode Island and several local residents, NELC attorneys sought to bring an end to sewage overflows and stormwater discharges that had long contaminated popular beaches with excessive bacteria. Prior to the lawsuit, the town council had repeatedly deferred maintenance expenditures, putting off repairs to the sewage and stormwater systems and allowing pollution problems to worsen. The 2010 consent decree requires the town to end sewer overflows and stormwater pollution on a set schedule, with penalties for failing to meet deadlines. The town is now in the phase of the consent decree that requires it to implement a construction plan to eliminate overflows and ensure compliance with the Bay’s water quality standards.

This is one of two NELC suits aimed at cleaning up popular swimming beaches in Rhode Island. The companion case, also filed in 2008, focuses on longstanding sewage treatment and storm water discharge inadequacies in the neighboring city of Newport. Under a 2011 consent decree in that case, Newport has embarked on a series of major upgrades.