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Town presents Matunuck case to CRMC

January 18, 2012

Community members sign two petitions in support of the town's applications to erect a sheet pile wall and to reclassify the shoreline on Matunuck Beach Road last Saturday during a public meeting at Matunuck Elementary School. Photo By Kathleeen McKiernan

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The town has made its case to the Coastal Resources Management Council for its application to erect a sheet pile wall along the southern edge of Matunuck Beach Road after receiving four objections from property owners, Surfrider Foundation and Save The Bay.

The town’s response, sent to the CRMC Wednesday, Jan. 11, comes after a public meeting was held last Saturday at Matunuck Elementary School for the Matunuck community to dissipate the rumors and hear from town officials on what was being done to prevent ongoing erosion along Matunuck Beach Road.

After several public meetings and private discussions held between the CRMC and South Kingstown Town Council last year on solving the erosion crisis, in August, the town applied for a coastal assent to construct a sheet pile wall along the town’s right of way stretching 202 feet from the western boundary of the Ocean Mist. Another 350 feet would be added if the roadway is compromised. This would cost $600,000, for which the town received a grant for.

“The work proposed would strengthen the shoulder of the existing road at the south edge of the right of way, away from the coastal feature,” Town Manager Stephen Alfred said in the Jan. 11 letter to CRMC. “The town has thoroughly reviewed many alternatives in this regard and arrived at the proposed improvements as the most environmentally and economically feasible means to ensure protection of the Matunuck Beach Road infrastructure.”

A second application would allow the town to reclassify 1,272 feet of Matunuck Beach Road starting at the Matunuck Trailer Park Association and affecting 11 lots on the front seaward side of the road. The reclassification, from Type 1 coastal headlands to Type 2 manmade beach area, would only change under the town’s Special Area Management Plan to not set precedent for other parts of the state, a concern expressed by Surfrider Foundation, a local coastal conservation group. The town argues that this would allow the private property owners to protect their land.

The four objections from property owners, bar owners at the Ocean Mist and Tara Joyce’s Family Pub and environmental advocates Save the Bay and Surfrider, only apply to the first application of a sheet pile wall. The letters were sent to the CRMC during the application’s public notification period in November. The biggest concerns among the four groups include the wall blocking access to private property, worsening erosion along the properties due to wave refraction, violations for CRMC policy for emergency assents and the need to utilize soft non-structural measures first.

However, Alfred counters each point in his response letter, stating that “the town is of the view that the correspondence items received in regards to our pending application do not raise objections that are substantive in nature. Many of the assertions therein are inaccurate, speculative or not germane to the application or any affect it may or may not have on the surrounding properties.”

In two separate letters dated Nov. 4, 2011, attorneys Burn and Levinson, representing seven property owners on the south side of Matunuck Beach Road and attorneys Blish and Cavanaugh representing the Ocean Mist and Tara Joyce’s Family Pub argue that installation of the sheet pile wall will block access to property on the south side of the road and deflect storm water and waves back onto the objectors’ properties, exacerbating erosion patterns.

“The erection of this wall will have a devastating effect on our clients’ properties and on the successful businesses that operate on those properties. The town’s proposal will destroy them both financially by precluding access to them except by climbing over the wall and rendering them virtually worthless and physically by exacerbating the erosion they are subject to,” the letter defending the bar owners states.

However, Alfred argued it is false that the wall blocks access to the southern properties, stating “the design calls for construction such that existing physical access points to those properties are maintained as currently configured. In no instance will the proposed steel sheeting result in any reduced or elimination of access to those parcels.” He also said the steel sheeting will not cause wave refraction onto the adjacent properties, since the sheeting will be driven outside the existing headland at the edge of the right of way, which is associated with the infrastructure already in place at Matunuck Beach Road.

All objectors argue that the town should implement non-structural “soft” measures like sand bags rather than hard armor options. The objectors claim that the sheet pile wall goes against CRMC policy and negatively impacts the environment. Alfred said sandbagging and burritos have been ineffective in the past when used for five cottages along Matunuck Beach Road and to the west of Moonstone Beach. Existing rock revetments at Mary Carpenter’s and the Matunuck Trailer Association have also required additional work and effort to maintain.

The objectors suggest that the town relocate the road as the only long term solution. But to the town, this is not an option. Alfred said alternative roadway routes were evaluated in the town’s Multi-Hazard Mitigation Strategy Plan approved by the town council in December. He said many proposed relocation and realignment scenarios, such as a route through Atlantic Avenue to Prospect Road or through Mary Carpenter’s Beach Meadows were analyzed by town staff and rejected as not feasible or practicable due to many factors including flood zone, wetland impacts and habitat impacts, existing physical, geometric and topographical limitations of connector roads and requirements for private property. He said further that an alternative roadway through Mary Carpenter’s Beach Meadows would result in the permanent loss of many seasonal residences.

“The permanent loss of the aforementioned residences would be a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water,” Alfred said.

Also, currently, operators at the Beach Meadow campgrounds are seeking state permits to install a new OWTS and waterline system servicing the 289 unit historic, seasonal development. Road relocation would severely impact this project that is intended to protect the groundwater, coastal ponds and wetlands associated with Potter Cove and Block Island Sound, Alfred said.

The objectors argue that the wall is not a temporary or emergency measure, but a permanent measure. The opposition suggests that the application is for an emergency assent that falls under different policies, Section 180 of the CRMC program. Alfred refuted that the town’s application has not been submitted under provisions of Section 180 for an emergency assent. Alfred said that comments by the objectors imply that the town considers the project to be temporary, but the project is proposed as a long term or permanent measure.

The next step in the process is for CRMC to issue a staff report and to schedule a public hearing on the application. In its response, the town suggested the public hearing be held locally at the South Kingstown High School auditorium.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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