The Pawtuxet River Local Protection Project in Warwick is located on the Pawtuxet River at the northern end of the city’s Norwood section, referred to as Belmont Park.
The project prevents flood damage to approximately 38 acres of residential land in Warwick, much of it bounded by the Pawtuxet River.
The Pawtuxet River is formed by the junction of its north and south branches in West Warwick. It flows northeasterly for 11 miles through Warwick (including the Belmont Park section) and Cranston before it empties into Narragansett Bay at Pawtuxet Cove on the Cranston-Warwick line. Belmont Park, a low-lying floodplain, had been subject to more frequent and severe flooding in recent years from increased development along the river. To help stem this severe flooding, the Corps evaluated both structural and nonstructural flood damage reduction plans. A structural plan would have required construction of a nearly one-mile-long dike around the Belmont Park area. The nonstructural plan called for the demolition and/or removal of several homes situated close to the river and the installation of an automated flood forecasting and warning system. After careful study, the Corps determined that the nonstructural plan would be more cost effective.
The work involved moving or eliminating 61 homes; purchasing outright 19 privately-owned vacant lots; constructing 12 above ground utility room additions to residences in the area which historically experienced less severe flooding; and installing the automated flood forecasting and warning system so that the remaining homes could be evacuated and property vulnerable to basement flooding could be protected. Work began in September 1982 and was completed in July 1985 at a cost of $4 million. Some of the homes demolished were used for training by firefighters in Warwick and neighboring communities. Warwick is responsible for operating and maintaining the flood forecasting and warning system.
The Nonstructural Approach
The Pawtuxet River Local Protection Project is one of two nonstructural flood damage reduction projects the Corps’ oversees in New England. The other, the Charles River Natural Valley Storage Project in Massachusetts, is one of the country’s largest and most successful applications of the nonstructural approach to flood control.
By purchasing 38 acres of land along the Pawtuxet River, the Corps has effectively prevented any development on them. Instead of building a dike after the flood prone area had been affected by private development, the Corps bought the land and returned it to its natural state to limit the river’s flood damage potential.
Recognizing the value floodplains have in our society, the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality said in its 1973 Annual Report: "The movement is away from the 19th century idea that land’s only function is to permit its owner to make maximum profit. Whereas the traditional answer to the question, `Why regulate land use?’ was `To maximize land values,’ the new answer is becoming `To make the best use of our land resources.’ (This is) a far cry from the simple value maximization concepts of early real estate interests ....
"The goal of long-range enhancement of land values is replacing a system aimed solely at increasing the short-run value and salability of land. The interest of the general public and of future generations is no longer ignored..."