Government

South Kingstown and Ocean Mist Push for New Seawall

Homes and businesses, such as Ocean Mist, along a stretch of road in South Kingstown are caught between an encroaching sea and Matunuck Beach Road. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — A throng of supporters of a proposed seawall intended to save a popular waterfront South Kingstown tavern left a recent public meeting frustrated.

Many of the nearly 200 attendees hollered at the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) for not voting on a plan to install a fortified stone barrier that they claim would protect the Matunuck beach community and the Ocean Mist tavern.

The majority of the overflow crowd chanted, “Give us the wall” and “Make a decision” in the hearing room at the Department of Administration building during the April 26 meeting.

CRMC executive director Grover Fugate and CRMC chairwoman Anne Maxwell Livingston, however, repeatedly told the audience that the meeting was simply a review of a complicated proposal and not intended for public input or a vote by the 10-member council.

The project is unique because it’s a joint application between the town of South Kingstown and Hang Ten LLC, the entity representing Kevin Finnegan, the owner of the storied Ocean Mist.

Fugate told the council that CRMC engineers couldn’t endorse the proposal because it goes beyond the allowed maintenance of a smaller existing seawall and instead seeks to build a new and significantly larger and complex stone barrier. According to the application, the new wall would be 530-feet long and 14-feet tall. The old wall was last modified in 1983. At the time, 80 feet of beach sat between the wall and the water. Today, only a small beach area sits behind the loose-stone structure. CRMC doesn’t support construction of new seawalls, as they are considered harmful to shoreline ecosystems.

The town and Finnegan, however, may nonetheless advance their application for the project, a process that make take months and even years if there are legal challenges, Fugate said. He also explained that CRMC suggested building a smaller stone structure that would likely gain approval from the CRMC board. A scaled-down proposal could advance within weeks, he said, if it meets the terms recommended by CRMC engineers.

The stretch of beach along the southern coast has been embroiled in debate for decades, as the town and commercial and residential property owners have struggled to protect the eroding beach and coastal structures. Several buildings now stand on stilts with water from Block Island Sound running beneath them at high tide.

In 2012, CRMC approved construction of a 200-foot-long sheet-metal and concrete wall to protect Matunuck Beach Road from erosion and moderate storms. The road is the only access to homes and businesses in the community. Although the project has received all of the necessary permits, construction hasn’t started. Many supporters of the Ocean Mist don’t want the sheet-metal, or sheet-pile, wall installed, because it will built behind the Ocean Mist and increase the likelihood of damage to structures outside the barrier.

In 2014, CRMC denied an application by the town to build a new seawall along a strip of beach between the shoreline and Matunuck Beach Road.

Finnegan has also submitted an application to CRMC to raise the Ocean Mist 3 feet and install a cement foundation.

Fugate said the sheet-metal wall and a new stonewall may protect the road but won’t protect buildings behind the wall from the effects of a severe storm.

If the joint application for the new seawall moves forward a public hearing could be held soon, Livingston said. Save The Bay, the Surfrider Foundation and the Conservation Law Foundation oppose the proposal.

“As everyone knows, this matter has been kicking around for a long time and we hope we are moving toward a resolution,” Livingston said.

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  1. This story has gone far beyond saving the Ocean Mist, the crmc and all government in Rhode Island have forgotten that they work for the people of the state. This situation is a gleaming example that the elected officials of this state completely ignore the desires of the people that they represent once they are in office comma and then are flabbergasted when people like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump win in elections. There is no place in this country you could become more of an anti-establishment voter then in the state of Rhode Island

  2. I appreciate the facts here, as it seems this issues is very emotional for some. Would love more detail on why the CRMC’s policies consider seawalls harmful. Perhaps there has been a lack of voter education on the issue?

    I’m alarmed to read that in ’83 there was 80 feet of beach, now eroded to the sea. As a voter, and tax payer I think more thought ought to be invested before more money is invested into what could be a losing battle.

    Either way, many thanks to Tim and ecoRI for bringing the issue forward and – as is typical of you folks – providing unbiased reporting.

    • Seawalls are hard structures, and impact the beach by causing passive erosion, which means the the beach migrates landward. A seawall would destroy the beach that is left in and around the area. It’s my belief that the sea walls surrounding the beach at ocean mist are what already eroded the beach. Creating another wall in the area doesn’t actually solve the issue, it may delay it, but more likely it will actually accelerate it.

  3. We saved a beachfront from encroaching sea erosion in Kure Beach, North Carolina utilizing geo-synthetics to create a permeable berm that allowed the sea grasses to fully establish a root zone that enhanced earthen capture in the root zone by the grasses themselves. Many engineers do not want to hear simple solutions….

  4. Jay Carr
    We need a wall to hold back the ocean! Good luck people. Who will pay to build the wall? Who will pay for the flood insurance subsidies? Who will pay for the storm cleanup? This is why those lands were called "wastelands". A beach house can wash away, they were made to be replaced. The rich can afford the replaceable luxury home. When you take a beach house built on sand and try to make it family home, good luck. Look at those crazy people in Jersey who made homes on a four foot high sand dune and couldn’t believe it when Sandy came knocking. Some even went back. And don’t forget my easement on all shore-front-property to get to the shore and to walk along the shore above the water regardless of tide. Got my easement before they came with shovels and wood, before Ibbison and their property lines. You build a wall, it better have a sidewalk on the ocean side.

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