SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The Town of South Kingstown has requested the Coastal Resources Management Council to reclassify part of the Matunuck shoreline to allow for more protective measures for the eroding road.
The town seeks to reclassify the segment of shoreline south of Matunuck Beach Road to the Ocean Mist Bar from the existing Type 1 “coastal headlands, bluffs and cliffs” designation to Type 2“manmade shorelines” classification. This will affect 11 properties along the road.
The request follows the town’s initial application to erect a 200 foot steel sheet pile wall along Matunuck Beach Road to prevent ongoing erosion. The CRMC is reviewing the application and public comments. The bulkhead wall has been met with opposition from Matunuck bar and homeowners, along with Save The Bay and RI Surfrider Foundation, who propose the use of soft structures and question the bulkhead’s validity under CRMC policy. A public hearing on the application will be held once the town responds to the questions raised and the CRMC develops a staff report.
“It is the town’s posture that this reclassification will accurately reflect the historic character of portions of the Matunuck shoreline, given the preponderance of manmade structures presently and formerly existing along the subject area,” Town Manager Stephen Alfred said.
The shoreline was initially designated as Type 1 in 1983. Type 1 waters include areas that the CRMC finds is unsuitable for structures due to their exposure to severe wave action, flooding and erosion. Type 2 waters are defined as supporting low intensity recreational and residential uses. Under CRMC policy, Type 2 waters allow new structural shoreline protection like the town’s application for a 200 foot sheet pile wall and accommodates residential docks, minor dredged channels and small-scale shoreline protection structures. Currently, the entire southern Rhode Island coastline from Watch Hill to Point Judith is classified as Type 1.
Alfred said the reclassification will provide the necessary administrative vehicle to allow commercial and residential property owners more flexibility in designing protective measures against erosion.
The current CRMC regulatory environment under Type 1 waters does not provide flexibility necessary for the property owners to mitigate erosion, Alfred said.
This concern has been raised several times by those opposing the town’s application to erect a sheet pile wall during the public notification period Nov. 4 to Nov. 18.
In letters to the CRMC, attorneys for the Ocean Mist and Tara Joyce’s Family Pub and Save The Bay’s Executive Director Jonathan Stone argue that the proposed sheet wall violates CRMC policy because the structural shoreline protection is prohibited in Matunuck shoreline with its classification of Type 1.
In its April 20 staff report, the CRMC stated that any reclassification would require creation of a Matunuck Headland Coastal Natural Area. Alfred said the town is requesting that the Matunuck Headland Coastal Natural Area not be so restrictive in permitted uses and designs so to not impact or impeded property owners rights for their land.
Save The Bay and RI Surfrider Foundation have raised concerns that if the CRMC allowed South Kingstown a permit to construct a hardened shoreline structure, it would have to for other Rhode Island communities along the south shoreline. However, Alfred said approval of the application to reclassify the waters will not established precedent for the coastal resources management program.
Alfred agreed with a previous CRMC staff recommendation that the shoreline reclassification change and establishment of the Matunuck Headland Coastal Natural Area be done within the Salt Pond Regional Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) and not within the overall CRMC program, the Red Book.
Alfred said the reclassification will not affect the existing design standards required by the CRMC for the proposed man-made shoreline protection structures.