Proposed Boat Yard Expansion Riles The Dumplings
October 24, 2020
JAMESTOWN, R.I. — An exclusive summer enclave is struggling with growth.
The small, rocky cove known as The Dumplings is across Narragansett Bay from downtown Newport on Conanicut Island. The idyllic harbor community gets its name from the glacial dumpling-like rocks protruding close to shore. The iconic Clingstone mansion stands atop one of the larger granite mini-islands.
A mix of modest and stately homes overlook large sailboats moored in the cove. Extended families have kept homes for more than a century. It counts as its residents legendary sailors, wealthy seasonal vacationers, and musician James Taylor.
The heritage and affluence has brought more boaters to the picturesque shoreline and increased demand for the services of the Jamestown Boat Yard. Once a small, full-service marina, the Jamestown Boat Yard has become a maritime hub and destination. Moorings have increased and new buildings have gone up. Vehicles, some left for days, are clogging roads. Beachgoers walk on private property to access the waterfront.
Plans to expand the dock space, coupled with dredging, has stirred stiff neighborhood opposition. The most heartfelt complaints spoken during an Oct. 20 online hearing of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) described the overcrowding of the harbor. Once a place to swim, kayak, and paddle board, the narrow cove has become crowded and dangerous for recreation, according to neighbors.
Residents described collisions and near misses between large boats and small watercraft and the risks of the once-common practice of swimming to docks and beaches up and down the shore.
In response to the public outcry, the boatyard shrank its proposal significantly. It originally sought a 150-foot extension of an existing pier, and 50-foot extensions of two finger piers. The work required 3,500 cubic yards of dredging.
The modified plan extends two docks 18 feet and a third 20 feet. The dredging was reduced to 2,100 cubic yards feet of sediment. Steven DeVoe, general manager of the Jamestown Boat Yard, said the additional dock space is needed for operational efficiency so larger boats with deep drafts don’t have to move in and out of slips based on the tides.
The application process was delayed by the fact that DeVoe sold the boatyard to Safe Harbor Marinas during the permitting process. Safe Harbors is the largest owner and operator of marinas in the world, including nine in Rhode Island.
CRMC staff is recommending that the CRMC board approve the expansion. After the plans were scaled back, CRMC deemed the work a maintenance project, one that typically doesn’t require a hearing.
Nevertheless, due to the scope of the initial plan, the more comprehensive review and public hearing went forward. Some 130 participants joined the Zoom meeting, most in opposition to the project.
Dan Goulet, CRMC’s head of marine infrastructure, said the work doesn’t threaten eelgrass beds. He noted that two tests of the dredging sediment found that it was safe to remove. The material will be buried in a designated dumping site in the Providence River.
Two scientists testifying on behalf of the citizens group Save Dumplings Cove said the sediment testing done on behalf of the boatyard was inadequate. They said the cove could require additional excavation to maintain the lower depth, churning up a harmful chemical once used as an anti-fouling agent in boat paint.
Goulet said the presence of tributyltin (TBT) was too low to require additional study.
After testimony by Goulet and the attorneys representing the boatyard and the opponents, 10 people testified against the project.
Barbara Wells Carton, a full-time resident of Longfellow Road, said she stopped swimming in the harbor two years ago after a surge of large boats appeared.
“The whole thing is just way too scary,” she said.
Others spoke of the influx of big boats and the stress of navigating the cove.
“Let’s protect what little ocean we have left from getting demolished,“ said Ben Tuff, a local resident who in 2019 swam 23 miles around Conanicut Island for charity.
A petition launched by Friends of Dumplings Cove received more than 500 signatures from full-time and seasonal residents. It highlights three objections: public safety, endangerment to eelgrass, and degradation to the cove and land.
CRMC chair Jennifer Cervenka noted that some of the arguments against the project weren’t part of the review, such as parking and a dispute over property lines.
Save The Bay raised objections to the initial dock expansion and dredging proposal. But concerns about sediment testing and harm to aquatic vegetation were addressed when the plan was revised, according to the Providence-based organization.
The 3-hour time limit for the meeting ran out at 9 p.m. Testimony from 17 residents is scheduled to be heard at the Oct. 27 meeting. The CRMC board is expected to deliberate and vote on the application after the testimony.