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Fall River Open Space Plan
F. Scenic Resources and Unique Environments
Fall River's distinctive landscape characteristics are the basis for both its scenic beauty and unique natural ecosystems. As discussed earlier in the Plan, steep slope of the urban portion of the City facing west to Mount Hope Bay and beyond provides one of southeastern Massachusetts' best vantage points for viewing sunsets and the distant Providence skyline. In east Fall River, the vastness of the Copicut and Watuppa region's contiguous mature forests and wetlands systems provide unique wildlife habitat and water resource protection for the City's water supply.
Agricultural pursuits, although not a staple of the Fall River economy, are still carried out on a small scale. Dairy, native fruits and vegetables, and grains (predominantly corn) are the principal agricultural concerns in Fall River. A survey of remaining agricultural parcels within the City of Fall River revealed only the following locations as still in farming use: Northeast of interchange 40, Route 24, between Meridian St. and Bridge Path; South of Wilson Road, east of Route 24 bordering east and west Meridian Street; Southwest of Copicut Rd., abutting Copicut Rd. and Yellow Hill Rd. and the Fall River/Dartmouth town line; 1400' north of Indian Town Road, west of Yellow Hill Road.
Fall River's built environment is rich in its history dating to the early 1800's. There are six historic districts in the City with hundreds of historic structures, particularly from the Victorian era. Within the Highland Historic District, there are over 300 historic structures. The Massachusetts Historic Commission maintains an extensive database listing of all buildings of historic value in Fall River.
Because it has been heavily wooded, most likely throughout history, there is no extensive historic record existant for East Fall River. However, knowledge of prior inhabitants of the area, including Wampanoag communities at Assameskq to the east and "Indian Town" (Fall River Reservation) to the west, plus the presence of the early Quakers in nearby Freetown (circa 1770), suggest the potential for significant historic sites in East Fall River (such as Native Ameriacn camp sites, mill operations, etc.)
Although files at the Massachusetts Historic Commission, Fall River and Freetown Historical Societies presently contain no record of historic sites of significant cultural interest or importance in East Fall River, thorough and extensive investigations have yet to be conducted. Some potentially significant sites within this area include the Haskell-Wordell Farmstead in the Copicut vicinity; remnants of a sawmill operation on the Copicut River (appearing on maps as early as 1831); a small cemetery in the woods between Quanapoag Road and the power lines, southeast of the Haskell-Wordell site; several stone and boulder dams; and numerous Indian paths and trails. Upon further investigation, some sites within the East Fall River area may provide evidence of hunting camps, mill operations, Native American burial grounds, and lumbering operations.
The quality of Fall River's environment today is the product of several factors. One, the substantial amount of past alteration of the natural landscape is discussed earlier in this Plan in the Water Resources section. In addition to these historic abuses however, the discharge of pollution - past and ongoing - into air, land and water and the pressure for development of the remaining open land for industrial, residential and public facilities represent the City's primary environmental problems. The following discussion highlights the most significant problems and opportunities for restoration.
Combined Sewer Overflows
The most widely publicized pollution problem in Fall River is probably the discharges of combined sewerage and stormwater (CSO's) from nineteen outflow points on the Quequechan River, Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay. Shellfish beds in the bay have been closed to harvesting since 1948. Around this time, the problems of contamination from raw sewerage gained widespread attention and construction began on the city's first wastewater treatment plant.
As described elsewhere in this report, the CSO problem arises from the fact that about 75% of the city's sewerage conveyance system was constructed in combination with stormwater drains. Nineteen overflow points were intentionally included to allow discharge of flows into the waterways during storm events to avoid backup of the storm/sewerage flows within the conveyance system.
In 1986 and 1987, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration performed a microbiological survey of Mount Hope Bay to determine whether water quality was good enough quality to allow commercial shellfishing. The survey showed that the standards of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program were exceeded throughout the Bay during wet weather and in the northeastern portion (near Fall River's shores) during dry weather. The Quequechan River was the principal source of fecal coliform input to the bay with concentrations approaching those of raw sewerage.
As a result of litigation filed by the Conservation Law Foundation in 1988, Fall River was ordered by the federal court to remediate the CSO discharges. Since 1988 the city has taken steps to eliminate overflows of raw sewage during dry weather through cleaning and repairs to the sewer lines. A plan to construct a 5.5 mile underground tunnel to provide storage of the polluted water during storms and convey the flows to the treatment plant, was developed and the cost was estimated to be about $110 million. Recently, the court allowed the city a delay in implementing the plan while construction proceeds on improvements to the existing wastewater treatment plant. These improvements will reduce the volume of CSO discharge into the rivers and bay, but will not eliminate them entirely.
CSO discharges can also deplete oxygen levels in the receiving waters which are critical to the survival of fish and other species. Low dissolved oxygen levels have been measured in Mount Hope Bay. Elevated nutrient loading and increased deposition of sediments in the receiving waters are two other likely impacts associated with CSO's.
Other Sources Of Water Pollution
In addition to the combined sewer overflows, separate pipes which convey stormwater from street drains and parking lots discharge to the rivers and to the South Watuppa Pond. The total number and location of these pipes is not known. While some catch basins are constructed to trap at least part of the pollutant load, stormwater runoff still carries many pollutants to the receiving waters, including oil, gasoline, fertilizers, chemicals from accidental spills, pesticides and herbicides, animal droppings and sediment. Lack of maintenance of stormflow structures by the city increases the pollution burden which is discharged into receiving waters. Water quality is especially vulnerable when accidental spills of oil, gasoline and chemicals on roadways are not speedily contained, but instread flow into catch basins or directly into waterways and wetlands.
In recent years, South Watuppa Pond has experienced both algae blooms and fish kills. Fish kills were observed in June of 1995, 1996 and 1997. Accelerated growth of algae usually results from heavy loadings of "nutrients" - nitrogen and phosphorus - in the receiving waters, and may also result in depleted oxygen levels. Polluted waters may also result in the spread of bacterial infections in some species of fish. Leachate from septic systems is one source of nutrient pollution. Animal droppings, fertilizer washed off lawn and garden areas and runoff from farms are other possible sources. Over a period of time, heavy nutrient loading and rampant growth of vegetation in a pond or lake can lead to "eutrophication", or transformation of open water areas to marshy areas where sediment has accumulated.
DEP testing has also revealed that some fish in local ponds have high mercury contamination levels. Fish from North Watuppa Pond were tested at 1.4 parts per million (ppm). Specimens from Copicut Reservoir had levels of 3.28 ppm and fish from South Watuppa were measured at .2 ppm. The federal agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry considers a level of .16 ppm of mercury the maximum at which fish are safe for human consumption. Regular testing of the water in North Watuppa Pond has revealed no detectable mercury contamination.
The mercury contamination observed in the three local ponds is typical of other test results around New England. Sources of the problem have not been clearly identified; deposition from air pollution is a suspected cause. Power plants and incinerator emissions are both potential sources of mercury.
Route 24. constructed in the 1950's curves around the southeastern shore of the North Watuppa Pond, at some points coming to within one to two hundred feet of the edge of the water. The potential for contamination from normal roadway runoff concerns city officials as well as the fear of a major uncontrolled spill of oil or chemicals resulting from a highway accident.
Potential sources of bacterial contamination to Mount Hope Bay shellfish beds were identified by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries in a Winter 1996-97 survey. They are:
Illegal Trash Dumping
Possibly the most disheartening of the examples of ongoing pollution of the city's environment is the continuing practice of illegal dumping of household trash, tires, discarded furniture, brush and construction debris in wooded, wetland or waterfront areas. Some of the spots which appear to be favorite targets of the offenders have been: Dave's Beach, the Cook Pond fishing pier area, the Quequechan shoreline, the Conrail right-of-way, Riggenbach Road, shoreline area near Bicentennial Park, and the Amity/Laurel Street area. In addition, the undeveloped forests of east Fall River which are difficult to patrol and monitor attract tons of refuse annually, sometimes including cans or barrels of oil and other toxic substances.
Two coal-fired power plants, Brayton Point and Montaup in Somerset, several large textile manufacturing facilities and the municipal incinerator are among the major contibutors to the emissions in the general airshed of Fall River. Motor vehicles, the wastewater treatment plant and many small businesses such as dry cleaners and paint shops are other sources. Because many different pollutants are emitted from all of these sources and because dispersion of pollutants from the source is highly dependent on wind and weather conditions, it is difficult to make a simple evaluation of the quality of the air people breathe in any specific locality.
High levels of ozone, a national citeria pollutant are experienced in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These levels are believed to be caused partially by emissions from local sources and partially by emissions from upwind states including Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C. area. All of the northeast states are required by EPA to implement ozone reduction strategies to reduce the current levels, but the deadlines for compliance extend to the year 2008 and beyond.
The nearest monitor for ozone is located in Providence, Rhode Island. Violations of the ozone standard have occurred annually at the Providence station. Fall River is considered to be part of the Providence "airshed" and is therefore designated as a "non-attainment" area for ozone. This designation means that residents may breathe levels of ozone which exceed the national standard during hot summer days and may experience adverse health effects.
Emissions from textile industries are largely comprised of volatile organic compounds and compounds of sulfur. In recent years several companies have installed new pollution control equipment or have modified processes in attempts to alleviate neighborhood emission and odor problems. In 1991, DEP conducted testing with a mobile unit in an attempt to investigate odor complaints in a particular neighborhood. This testing revealed elevated levels of benzene, toluene and xylene, which DEP characterized as "comparable to measured values in other urban locations."
The municipal incinerator has been a subject of controversy since its construction in the 1970's. In the past it has failed DEP-required stack tests for particulate emissions and some metal compounds. It received a controversial exemption from a 1988 state requirement that waste incinerators install dry acid scrubbers. Because of the air pollution concerns, DEP had limited the city to use of only one of the two boilers at the incinerator at any time and restricted the tonnage of waste that may be combusted to 200 per day.
The facility was required to undergo testing of stack emissions every nine months. Parameters tested include particulates, dioxin and several heavy metals including lead, mercury, zinc and cadmium. Despite past failures to meet required standards, recent tests have demonstrated compliance. New stricter emission standards for incinerators currently proposed by EPA, however may require that additional pollution control equipment be installed. (At present, Fall 1999, the incinerator is closed. We will eventually update this segment.)
Under the supervision of the city's Fire Department, progress has been made in the removal of underground fuel tanks at service stations and from some industrial sites. Shell Oil Company has undertaken the removal of tanks and contaminated soil at its facility on the Taunton River north of Brightman Street Bridge. Hazardous waste remediation has been conducted at other industrial sites, including the Kerr Mill site and the Elbe Cesco property on Alden Street.
On the current DEP 21E listing dated October 1996 for Fall River, the number of sites in each category are as follows:
The extent to which sediments in the Quequechan River, Taunton River and the conduit through which part of the river flows may be contaminated as a result of past industrial discharges is not well documented. Some testing of Taunton River sediments around the waterfront area in the 1980's indicated elevated levels of hydrocarbons and other pollutants.
A large landfill owned by Browning Ferris Industries occupies a site of approximately 165 acres in the north end of Fall River. Twenty-three groundwater monitoring wells have been located around the perimeter of the landfill which are sampled and tested quarterly. Surface water from two sites, Mother's Brook, upgradient and downgradient of the landfill are also tested.
Earlier this year, the city engaged an environmental engineering firm, Fuss and O'Neill Inc. to review the site and existing studies and to make recommendations about whether additional monitoring wells should be installed by the city to verify that landfill leachate is not migrating towards the water supply. Fuss and O'Neill is also conducting independent split sample testing to verify the results of BFI's quarterly testing of the monitoring wells.