SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The debate on how to save Matunuck Beach Road is eroding the peace yet again.
In June, the South Kingstown Town Council awarded a contract to St. Jean Engineering of East Greenwich to design a driven sheet steel wall to combat on-going shoreline erosion along Matunuck Beach Road at the cost of $81,900. The steel pile wall with a concrete cap is designed to protect the Matunuck Beach Road right-of-way in the vicinity of the Ocean Mist. The sheet piles will be driven 36 feet into the earth and the wall will be four feet high. It will be connected to a newly constructed six-inch concrete sidewalk on its north side.
The town now awaits Coastal Resource Management Council's approval of its application after the public notice period ends today. The CRMC extended this period from Nov. 4 to today after concerns were raised by Save the Bay that there was not enough notification given.
The town's decision to erect the steel sheet pile wall has created umbrage among many Matunuck Beach Road landowners, who have not wasted time during this public notice period to express their frustration.
CRMC Marine Infrastructure Coordinator Dan Goulet said at this point the CRMC has not completed a review yet of the application or public comments. Goulet said the town's application is still pending and the public comments sent to the CRMC are the individual's opinion and take on CRMC policy, not specifically the stance of the CRMC. He stated once the public notice period ends today, CRMC will look at all of the public comments.
“We don't know yet whether the arguments are substantive,” Goulet said.
On behalf of the Ocean Mist and Tara Joyce's Family Pub, attorneys William Landry and Stephen Reid Jr. of Blish & Cavanaugh LLP, did not hide their clients' objection to the town's application for an assent to construct a sheet pile wall along the south side of Matunuck Beach Road. Ocean Mist owner Kevin Finnegan and Tara Joyce's Family Pub owner Tara Mulroy could not be reached for comment.
Reid and Landry argue that the sheet pile bulkhead wall will run directly in front of Matunuck businesses and residences, come within three inches of the southerly line of Matunuck Beach Road, and seal off the eight of the affected properties from access to Matunuck Beach Road. The property owners also argue that the town's wall proposal infringes on private property rights and exceeds the scope of the town's right of way.
“We reviewed the plans for the wall and saw it provide a four foot wall to close off the road from my clients' businesses,” Landry said. “Our concern is the erection of the wall on the landward side would deflect the storm water to my clients' buildings and exacerbate the erosion for them.”
“The erection of this wall will have a devastating effect upon 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,” Reid and Landry state in the letter to the CRMC.
South Kingstown Town Manager Stephen Alfred said the town staff has already communicated with CRMC to make sure the Matunuck businesses would have access to the road after the wall is erected.
“The wall is in front of their properties. The assumption that it is blocking them access is false,” Alfred said.
“We talked with the two restaurant owners [Kevin Finnegan of Ocean Mist and Tara Mulroy of Tara Joyce's Family Pub] about putting walking or driveway access points where there are existing access points to the private properties,” Alfred said.
Landry and Reid, along with Attorney Sean Coffey, who represents seven property owners along the south side of Matunuck Beach Road argued that the sheet wall violates prohibitions and policies of the CRMC.
“We compared the application package and plans to the CRMC's policy on shoreline protection and we saw them as inconsistent,” Landry said.
The three attorneys argue that the CRMC's program regulations prohibit new structural shoreline protection methods on barriers classified as undeveloped, moderately developed and developed in Type 1 waters.
However, in addition to applying for the sheet steel wall, the town is readying an application to reclassify the shoreline as manmade from Type 1 to Type 2 to provide priority protection for this segment of coastline as a scenic and low-intensity recreational use area, allowing for new structural shoreline protections such as the wall. Alfred said this application will be done within the next two weeks.
Alfred said the town initially chose the sheet steel wall because it complied with CRMC's policies.
At the time of the contract, the town had two options to consider in regards to the type of shoreline protection, which was either an armor stone wall constructed at the mean high tide line or a driven steel pile wall at the town's right-of-way line. Because the sheet wall runs along the right-of-way, the town could secure a permit for that project. The armor wall runs along the shoreline, which is private property.
“We sat down with the CRMC staff and talked about the building of an armor stone wall or sheet steel wall at the right of way. We did not see we'd receive positive approval for an armor wall and evaluation of the wall would take several years,” Alfred said. “We opted to go forward with the steel wall at the town's right of way. We saw it as permissible through the CRMC and would like to have the wall installed during calendar year 2012.”
The Matunuck Beach owners' attorneys reflected how in the June 24 CRMC staff report by CRMC Deputy Director Jeffrey Willis recommended nonstructural alternatives to protection of the shoreline. These options include experimental methods such as burritos, beach replenishment and relocation of the road.
In the June report, Willis recommended relocating the road as the best option, stating, “While staff acknowledges the complexity and expense in executing this action, it is our opinion that relocation of the road is the best long-term option to ensure a functional roadway in this area.”
Contrarily, Alfred said the sheet pile wall is the best option for the town.
“Beach replenishment has been tried unsuccessfully in the last few years. Based on the erosion that occurred, we have to make structural improvements,” Alfred said. “Inland retreat is an unacceptable alternative. These are not viable options.”
President of the MC Homeowners Association, which represents the homeowners who lease land at Carpenter's Beach Meadows, Marcel Beausoleil has supported the town's decision not to relocate the road. Beausoleil stated moving the road would displace residents who contribute to the local economy and urged CRMC to find other options to saving the road.
“We ask that [CRMC] take a careful look at the manner in which erosion here can be abated, or minimized, saving the road and the structures on it, without calling for moving the road through Carpenter Beach Meadows and forcing us from our homes,” Beausoleil said.
Along with the Matunuck home and business, Save the Bay argues that the town is not entitled to an emergency assent according to CRMC policy, but Alfred countered that the town has not even filed for an emergency assent. He stated the town has merely applied to make physical improvements to the town's right of way.
“It is CRMC staff opinion that the pending project proposal submitted by the town does not constitute a special exemption because the proposed sheet pile wall will be installed landward of the beach and associated headland scarp,” CRMC Deputy Director Jeffrey Willis said. “While the proposed location of the sheet pile wall is admittedly in close proximity to the scarp, it is nonetheless inland of the existing scarp and concrete block wall. The town's application is not being processed under the Section 180 Emergency Assent provisions.”
Alfred said the homeowners' attorneys arguments do not appear to be substantive. He said they had never communicated with the town prior to writing their objection letters to the CRMC.
Each attorney requested to be heard at a public hearing on the town's application to urge the CRMC to reject the application in favor of a “special area management' type solution for the Matunuck shoreline.
With the public notice period ending today, the CRMC will now take the comments, review the application and write a report that will be available to the public. In the report, CRMC staff will indicate whether the town does comply with the coastal program and provide recommendations. The application will go before the CRMC for a public hearing and final vote.