A Brief History of Save Bristol Harbor

In the early winter of 1997, it became known that Cumberland Farms planned to develop a gas station-convenience store adjacent to Silver Creek in Bristol. Silver Creek was then and is today an important salt marsh estuary flowing freely into Bristol harbor. In 1997 there was a fire-burned remnant of a Cumberland Farms store on the land leased by the Town of Bristol.  The legal right to re-build its store and potentially develop a gas station was without restriction and the Town could do little to prevent its construction.

Three citizens (Stephan Brigidi, Stan Dimock and Steve Robinson) led a grass roots effort known as “Save Silver Creek” and successfully campaigned to build public awareness and persuade the company to walk away from its lease. With a moderate buy-out plan agreed to by all parties, Mr. Brigidi, who is currently President Emeritus of Save Bristol Harbor, was a participant and witness to an agreement signed by the Town and Cumberland Farms.  By late spring of 1998 Bristol was able to return Silver Creek to its natural state as a public open space.  Today it’s a passive garden space, a wildlife habitat and a tranquil space where residents and visitors may visit at the gateway to Bristol.

The three resident activists went back to their work and quiet lives until a new threat to the public waters of Bristol emerged in 2002.  A marina located at the north end of the harbor planned to expand its slips into a 6-acre site in the harbor.  It was then that Brigidi, Dimock and Robinson regrouped and resumed their environmental defense of the public waters and loosely formed a new effort called “Save Bristol Harbor”. Within a short time, through dialogue with the marina’s owners and the building of strong public sentiment against the marina expansion, the marina’s owners altered their plan and worked with the community in securing harbor improvements benefitting public access to the water and the needs of recreational boaters. 

By 2005, Brigidi was the sole remaining member to continue with these reactive battles as both Robinson and Dimock had moved on.  Recognizing the need for a more proactive approach to the protection and preservation of the area’s waters and watersheds, Brigidi solicited the support of others in forming a 501(c)(3) named Save Bristol Harbor. A Board of Directors was built, bylaws were written and the organization successfully secured its non-profit status. 

Soon thereafter, the greatest threat to the waters of Bristol, and greater Mt. Hope and Narragansett Bays, arrived when a major oil company sought to build an LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) off-loading depot in Mt. Hope Bay where it would transfer the fuel by pipeline to nearby Fall River, MA. Save Bristol Harbor was not then and is not now opposed to LNG as a fuel, however, it was opposed to this ill-conceived plan which called for huge tankers filled with the volatile fuel to travel 26 miles up Narragansett and Mt. Hope Bays, through our dense population centers and the environmentally significant waters of the Bays and challenged the company to build its depot in a more suitable location. Once again Save Bristol Harbor responded to this threat by building public awareness and leading a coalition of elected officials and other environmentally focused groups to oppose the plan. It took years for their efforts in combating this ill-conceived plan to come to fruition but, in 2011, the company withdrew its applications and sold its Fall River, MA terminal, thus ending yet another threat.

Today, Save Bristol Harbor is recognized as a regional environmental leader with a range of educational programs for students in both the Bristol-Warren elementary and high schools and is actively engaged in a range of science-based partnerships/collaborations with the Graduate Schools of both URI and Brown University for the ongoing development of information and tools designed to protect the waters and watersheds of Bristol and beyond.