SOUTH KINGSTOWN –In a 6-2 vote, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) rejected South Kingstown’s request to reclassify 1,400 feet of the Matunuck shoreline in the hopes that a more comprehensive plan that combines beach replenishment with minimal reinforcement can be found.
The vote follows the council’s decision earlier in the night to reconsider its 7-2 vote made two weeks ago against the town’s request to construct a 200 foot sheet pile wall along the town’s right of way.
Town Manager Stephen Alfred urged that losing the road would endanger 240 homes and a waterline pipe that serves 1,666 customers. After realizing erosion has approached within several feet of the road and other alternatives could take one year or more to implement, the council decided to reconsider the application at its next meeting.
Solving the erosion crisis that has plagued Matunuck Beach Road for the last two decades is proving difficult.
After the CRMC staff indicated that a sheet pile wall would need to be 15 feet wide and cost upwards of $2 million, council members and environmental groups – Save the Bay, Surfrider Foundation, and the Conservation Law Foundation – expressed doubts.
Tuesday’s meeting at the South Kingstown High School was another four hour meeting, in which the town sought to reclassify the shoreline from coastal headlands bluff to a manmade shoreline – which allows for hardened structures.
Alfred argued that the reclassification would accurately reflect the historic character of portions of the shoreline given that 1,000 feet of the 1,400 feet in question is already armored. He stated seven of the 11 parcels have hardened structures that have been in place for the last 50 years and predated the existence of the CRMC.
The town sought the reclassification to allow the property owners to protect their property and collaborate on a comprehensive design approach that could be integrated into existing manmade structures on the eastern and western end of the shoreline.
Vice-chair person Paul Lemont and council member Michael Hudner cast the two affirmative votes indicating that the reclassification would allow the town and state to make progress towards solving the problem. Member Guillaume de Ramel was absent from the meeting.
Attorney for property owners at Mary Carpenter’s Beach Meadows, Donald Packer, indicated that his clients favored the town's applications. But, the residents, along with the pub owners at the Ocean Mist and Tara Joyce’s Family Pub, support a plan that includes the three competing interests – property owners, the town and the state and environmental conservationists.
“The best solution we’re asking for is that we be given an opportunity to present an appropriate solution within the next year that involves everyone at the table and involves beach replenishment as the first line of prevention,” said William Landry, attorney for the pub owners. “This is the opportunity to do it right to make sure the beach is there, to be sure property owners have a legitimate opportunity to protect their property at their own expense- not the state’s- and also to protect the road.”
The proposal resonated with several council members.
“I feel we need to wait for a comprehensive plan,” stated Tony Affigne, a council member. “When you come back to us with a plan that combines soft or minimal reinforcement and preserves public access – I will vote for it. I can’t vote for an open-ended reclassification. I will not vote to reclassify Matunuck Beach. I will vote for a plan that protects the beach, protects public access and serves the needs of residents.”
Coastal geologist, Janet Freedman, stated in an interview after the meeting that the CRMC always favored beach replenishment.
“A hybrid plan with some experimental structures and beach replenishment – I would be pleased to see that with monitoring,” she commented.
Throughout the hearing, conservationists urged the CRMC to not reclassify the shoreline, an action they feel compromises coastal policy set by “The Red Book” and opens the door for municipalities across the state to make similar requests.
“This is an attempt to make an end-run against CRMC’s long standing prohibition against hardening structures,” Bryan Wagner, attorney for Surfrider, said. “This is the first step down a slippery slope.”
Though the town was disappointed their application failed, attorney Andrew Titz said the town has always been in favor of a comprehensive plan.
“We are just looking for one immediate structure to protect the road. We believed the reclassification they voted against would have been the best way to get people moving on a comprehensive solution,” Titz said.