SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has set the date- April 10 - to hear what the public thinks about the town’s plan to erect a sheet pile wall along Matunuck Beach Road to prevent ongoing erosion.
Town Manager Stephen Alfred reported Tuesday morning that the town council will meet with the CRMC at the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus in the Corless Auditorium for a public hearing.
The announcement comes after Alfred insisted the CRMC schedule a public hearing for two plans that have been pending since last fall.
“Any additional time delays in considering our application could result in worsening of the conditions present making addressing them more difficult and complex going forward,” Alfred stated in a March 13 letter to CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate.
What are at stake are two applications – one that allows for a coastal assent to construct a sheet pile wall and a second that will reclassify the shoreline from Type 1 coastal headlands to Type 2 manmade beach area.
The proposed wall will run 202 feet from the western boundary of the Ocean Mist to protect the town’s right of way on Matunuck Beach Road. An additional 350 feet will be sought to serve as a buffer in case the roadway is compromised.
Alfred stated the town’s primary objective is to maintain public and emergency access to the road that leads to homes, businesses and Deep Hole Fisherman’s Area.
To preserve access, 1,272 feet of Matunuck Beach Road will be reclassified starting at the Matunuck Trailer Park Association. This will affect 11 lots on the front seaward side.
Since the 250 properties at the western corner of the Ocean Mist are private property, the town is not allowed to construct walls to protect them from erosion. That responsibility is left to the homeowners. The reclassification will give residents that power to protect their property.
Whether the sheet-pile wall is the solution has been debated since the town submitted its application. Two environmental advocacy groups - Save the Bay and Surfrider Foundation - have argued that hardening solutions, such as the wall, diminish natural resources.
Though Save the Bay and Surfrider claim that the town is not allowed to construct a wall under a CRMC special exception, the town officials contend that they do not seek an assent for such a special use permit.
“Our view of the work proposed is shoulder reinforcement of the existing pavement structure for Matunuck Beach Road, not a shoreline protection structure,” Alfred said.
While the steel sheeting is driven along the edge of the roadway and capped with a short concrete wall, Alfred insists that steps to minimize impact to the environment will be taken.
Alfred said the project will preserve and support Matunuck businesses.
Without the assent, 65 or more jobs from the Ocean Mist to Le Strada Pizzeria will be lost, Alfred said.
“Any breach of the wall will result in significant job losses coupled with loss of income, sales and meal tax revenues and other economic spin-offs from these cluster of businesses.”
The town has evaluated alternatives from inland retreat to a “bridge to nowhere” between Atlantic Avenue and Prospect Avenue.
Yet, all other options, Alfred said have been “determined to be infeasible, impracticable and inequitable.”