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Time’s Up in Matunuck for Property Owners Under Cease & Desist

As posted on TraceyC_Media.

Mother Nature Comes to Call – Property Owners Fortify Shoreline

South Kingstown – Property owners in coastal areas around the globe are feeling the adverse effects of climate change at the seashore. From laser surveys of cliff retreat and landslides in the UK, to 10,000 pound concrete prisms at New Jersey’s Ocean Gate, communities are at full sprint to beat Mother Nature to the door.

Scrambling to arm their properties against the sea slamming ashore fervently and frequently, coastal property owners individually and with government assistance are arming our barrier beaches and coastlines. From residents to small business and commercial concerns, property owners are dealing with developing governmental, coastal  and environmental  bureaucracy not always clearly defined.

The Ocean Mist the morning after Sandy. Click photo for video. (Video and photos by Tracey C. O’Neill 2012)
Ocean Mist Matunuck

The Ocean Mist the morning after Sandy. Click photo for video. (Video and photos by Tracey C. O’Neill 2012)

Shoreline armaments placed by private property owners in Matunuck Village, an area at severe risk, drew cease and desist orders from Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (RI CRMC). The original cease and desists issued in December 2010 were tabled by CRMC while volatile negotiations between the agency, town and property owners moved forward.

Placement of hard shoreline structures, in this case, pilings, stone armaments and man-made seawall was not allowed. CRMC regulations specifically prohibited hard structure construction on Type I shorelines. All of Matunuck’s coastline was considered Type I.

CRMC in December 2013 re-issued the cease and desist orders after coastal property owners failed to submit Experimental Coastal Erosion Control applications, designed and developed as a Special Area Management Plan to assist property owners in specific at risk areas.

As provided in newly adopted Section 980 of the Salt Pond Region Special Area Management Plan (effective October 7, 2013), the CRMC may authorize alternative experimental erosion control methods as a temporary experimental use. Such methods or practices may include marine mattresses, as detailed in the Army Corps of Engineers circular ERDC/CHL CHETNIII- 72 (See:, or sand-filled geo-textile bags, among other methods. Several manufacturers market these practices under proprietary names. The use of non-biodegradable materials for marine mattresses and geo-textile bags may be considered by the CRMC under these regulations. – CRMC Experimental Coastal Erosion Control Application Guidance Document Application

Front line properties in jeopardy

matbchrd“The next major storm we get, most of these places will disappear and these building envelopes will disappear, said Grover Fugate, Director Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. Fugate was referring to the “front line” of residents and businesses along Matunuck’s coastline.

At a recent meeting of the Rhode Island Bays, Rivers, & Watersheds Coordination Team, Fugate educated a crowd of environmentalists, oceanographer’s, politicians and press on a dire future for Rhode Island’s coastal communities. According to Fugate, as the evils of sea level rise and storm surge continued to erode coastal communities, there was no more time to talk about the existence of climate change. He said that the time to take action and plan for Mother Nature’s impending arrival was here.

Discussing the objectives of the Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) and Rhode Island’s positioning as a model for coastal planning, Fugate emphasized the need for immediate and long-term planning as global sea level rise modeling boasted disastrous results for low-lying coastal areas.

“Our shoreline is trying to roll back. It is trying to roll back in response to storms and sea level rise. The problem is that we are trying to fix it in place.” ~ Grover Fugate, RI CRMC

Coordination Team 1-8-14

Jan. meeting of the RI Bays, RIvers & Watersheds Coordination Team (l to r, Anne Maxwelle Livingston, Chair CRMC, Tricia Yedele, VP & Director CLI, Grover Fugate, Director CRMC, Jeff Willis, Deputy Director CRMC).

Sandy’s wrath and arrival, a year after her sister Hurricane Irene blew into town, escalated concern and action plans. Bringing a new reality to everyone involved, more hearings and meetings were scheduled. The Town of South Kingstown had a plan for a seawall long a 202 ft. span of Matunuck Beach Road.

The sole road leading into the village was at risk. Vital infrastructure and water lines contained in the roadway had to be protected. CRMC issued an emergency assent.

The seawall directly abutted a coastal business. The owner feared it’s existence would destroy his property, already in jeopardy. Kevin Finnegan, owner of the Ocean Mist, Matunuck’s iconic beachside bar had other plans. More hearings were scheduled – more meetings, more lawyers, more public hearings.

“I’ve been going to these meetings for 20 years,”  said Kevin Finnegan, owner of the Ocean Mist in a phone interview. It’s like groundhog day,”

Seawalls aren’t meant to protect structures

Fugate noted the issues with the Ocean Mist, the Town’s own beach pavilion, and south coast inhabitants in general. Noting the immense financial burden of building a seawall, with a price tag of approximately $5,000 per linear foot, Fugate told the group at the statehouse, not only that seawalls typically fail, but that the cost is unsustainable.

“Something you should realize with seawalls. None of them are built to protect the structure. None of them. In order to build a seawall on the south shore that will protect a structure, that seawall would have to be up to at least 26 feet tall,” said Fugate explaining the issue in Matunuck. “And it would have to completely surround the structure because  as the surge passes it will return on the backside and potentially take the structure on the backside. We’re talking about making massive investments that will not protect structures to begin with.”

Finnegan and the Ocean Mist, known around the globe for its humble beachfront atmosphere, employ upwards of 70 loyal employees. That number and those who depend upon his business climb exponentially when factoring in the hundreds of musicians, bands, suppliers – both restaurant and imbibement, he collaborates with year round.

Finnegan in recent meetings with the Town proposed his own plan. Finnegan wants to rebuild and maintain the stone revetment (hard structure) on the adjacent property where the Town plans to build its seawall.

“You need to use 8-10-12 ton stone and then maintain it,” said Finnegan. “The wall to the west of me is the same wall where the trailer park is. Everything is the same stone except for one little difference. One was maintained. One wasn’t.  If I can buy that property and build that wall, basically back to its original engineering with a little more safeguard added, and maintain it. It’s something they should let me do, because they are going to have to do it anyhow.”

Weather happens

Whether the issue is sea level rise, hurricane season or the dreaded Nor’Easter, one thing is clear. Mother Nature’s doesn’t discern between home or business, town or resident. When the sea comes ashore, there must be a plan in place. According to Fugate, Sandy’s path changed the coastal geography.

 “It should have taken about 100 years,” said Fugate. “It took less than 20,”


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