Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

Boston, MA – Two organizations and three individuals in Rhode Island were recognized today at the 2018 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s New England regional office. These environmental leaders were among 28 recipients across New England honored for their work to protect New England’s environment.

Wenley Ferguson of Save The Bay and Terrence Gray of the RI Department of Environmental Management were recognized with individual awards for contributions to the health and environment. And the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover Team, as well as the organizations involved in the Rhode Island Pawcatuck River Restoration Project, were recognized for their contributions. Additionally, Mayor Charles Lombardi of North Providence was given one of three Children’s Health Awards.

“New England is rich with individuals, businesses, and organizations that exhibit their strong commitment to local communities and to a clean and healthful environment. EPA is very proud to recognize these meaningful accomplishments,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator Alexandra Dunn in a press release.

EPA New England each year recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states whose are distinguished by their work to protect or improve the region’s environment. The merit awards, given since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown ingenuity and commitment. The Environmental Merit Awards, given for work or actions done in the prior year, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals.

The 2018 Merit Award Winners from Rhode Island were:


Wenley Ferguson, Save The Bay, Providence
Since 1990, Wenley Ferguson, Save the Bay’s restoration coordinator, has used her expertise, can-do spirit, and collaborative nature for her work protecting habitat, assessing water quality and generally restoring Narragansett Bay and its watershed. Ferguson’s projects have included salt marsh, anadromous fish, and coastal buffer restoration projects and restoration monitoring. Recently, Ferguson focused looking at how rising sea levels was affecting salt marshes. She documented regional impacts of sea level rise and, working with others, found techniques to improve marsh health as sea level rises. Ferguson also works to protect marsh migration corridors through easements and removing barriers to migration. She has put in place projects to regrade eroding banks and has removed infrastructure vulnerable to flooding and erosion to enhance coastal habitats and public access. Ferguson also works with others to install rain gardens and complete other projects that filter stormwater. Recently, she installed stormwater filtration and infiltration structures on coastal roads that are susceptible to tidal flooding and erosion. She involves community volunteers in monitoring, planting and maintenance. An effective advocate for Narragansett Bay and its environment, Ferguson for 30 years has tackled challenges to its ecological health. She is skilled at mobilizing people to protect and restore the bay.

Terrence Gray, RI Department of Environmental Management, Providence
Appointed in 2013 as the first associate director for environmental programs at the RI Department of Environmental Management, Terrance Gray has authority over programs covering the bulk of DEM’s regulatory work and many other programs. Gray, who oversees 160 employees, began at DEM in 1987 as an engineer, served as chief of the Division of Site Remediation; chief of the Office of Waste Management; and assistant director for Air, Waste and Compliance. He was pivotal in many successful efforts to clean up hazardous waste, redevelop former industrial sites, close landfills, stop illegal dumping, and improve waste management and recycling. He now leads DEM work on emerging contaminants. Gray is the “go to” person for businesses and other applicants flummoxed by permitting processes. In 2018, Gray kicked off a New Employee Cross Training Program for DEM’s newest employees with the goal of ensuring new employees understand work done in DEM’s Environmental Protection and Natural Resources bureaus and can serve as ambassadors of all the Department’s goals, no matter in which program they serve. Gray also has been instrumental in partnering with both the Rhode Island Society of Environmental Professionals and the Environmental Business Council of New England to enhance the relationship between DEM and both regulated communities and environmental professionals. Gray has been a leader for strategic planning and regulatory reforms. He has been the lead advocate for improving internal processes, making DEM the state leader on Lean. His work to identify waste ensures permitting processes are clear, predictable, and reliable. Gray is a “servant leader,” and a wonderful partner and colleague.

Environmental, Community, Academia, Nonprofit

Pawcatuck River Restoration Project, Hope Valley
Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association
The Nature Conservancy – Rhode Island Chapter

The efforts of the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association and The Nature Conservancy’s Rhode Island Chapter restored a passage for fish, improved the flow of water, upgraded the water quality, and reduced flood risks. Five dam removals and river restoration projects in the last decade have left the headwaters of the Pawcatuck River open to spawning of migratory fish for the first time since colonial development of mills and dams there. This was made possible by more than $10 million of government funding, the leadership of the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association and The Nature Conservancy and the efforts of landowners and citizens. Among the projects, the Lower Shannock Falls Dam was removed and a natural river channel and a riverside park were created. Another project involved removal of Kenyon Mill Dam and construction of a pool and rock ramp next to a textile mill. Beyond the new spawning grounds and improved passage provided to migratory fish, these projects have reduced flood risks. They also have provided safe boating passage and improved the river for fishing. These restoration projects reflect the desire of the association and watershed communities in Rhode Island and Connecticut for the Wood-Pawcatuck rivers system to be designated as a Wild & Scenic River under the U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service. This effort is approaching the final stages to achieve designation.

Photo of the Bradford fishway on the Pawcatuck River, which replaced the dam. © Ayla Fox


Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover Team, Newport
Jeremy Pochman, Robin Clegg, Brad Read, Dave McLaughlin

The Volvo Ocean Race, which covers 45,000 nautical miles over four oceans, stopped for 12 days in May at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI. Sail Newport, a local non-profit and official host in Newport, as well as Volvo Ocean Race, 11th Hour Racing, Clean Ocean Access, and Mega Disposal were nominated as a group for their combined focus on ocean health. The stopover drew more than 100,00 visitors, and this year’s sustainability program theme was “Turn the Tide on Plastic.” Two boats for the first time during this race collected data on water quality and plastic concentrations in some of the remotest parts of our planet. The Newport stopover featured the second Ocean Summit in Newport, RI, which was so popular more such summits are planned during the race to showcase innovative solutions to the plastic crisis. 11th Hour Racing, which works with the sailing community and maritime industries to protect and restore ocean health, helped put together the summit, drawing hundreds of experts and influencers. Host communities and businesses were urged to sign a pledge to work to reduce pollution, and Rhode Island was the first state to take the pledge. Clean Ocean Access, a Newport-based non-profit, led the Sustainability Committee, which put in place systems to eliminate single-use plastics, minimize the event footprint and divert thousands of pounds of waste from landfills. Hundreds of volunteers were involved.

Children’s Health Award

City of North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi
Water utilities have reduced lead exposure by installing corrosion control treatments. In recent years, public health and regulatory agencies have focused on replacing lead service lines to reduce lead exposure in drinking water which, in children, can result in neurological and developmental damage. This means addressing complex issues that require the involvement of the community and significant cost. Most lead service lines are owned partially by the water utility and partially by property owners. North Providence, with mostly moderate to low income families, has more than 500 lead service lines. Under the leadership of Mayor Charles Lombardi, the city has leveraged federal HUD funding through the state Office of Housing and Community Development. These funds, which municipalities typically invest in low income neighborhoods, in North Providence were used creatively to get $270,000 to replace privately-owned lead service lines. The city will replace the publicly-owned lead service line for every private line replaced. North Providence knocked on doors to get residents to participate. This led to replacing about 40 lead service lines. Then the city held public forums and now plans to replace about 100 lines in 2018. Under Lombardi’s vision, a creative solution was found and important public health changes made. Challenged by daunting numbers of lead pipes, North Providence is an inspiration to other communities wanting to eliminate lead pipes and protect their children.

In addition to the winners from Rhode Island, Nancy Siedman of Cambridge, Mass., was given the Ira Leighton “In Service to States” annual award for environmental achievement that has had an outsized impact in the state, the region, and nationally.

More information on EPA’s Environmental Merit Awards, including photographs from the award ceremony: