(Updated May 30, 2012)
With beach erosion threatening to cut a piece of South Kingstown from the mainland, the Coastal Resources Management Council has approved a $700,000 plan to allow the town to build a retaining wall along Matunuck Beach Road. But the plan is merely a stopgap to allow the town and residents to find a long-term solution to a problem threatening to wash away businesses and homes in coastal communities across the state.
“The overall plan is for CRMC to establish what they find as an experimental beachfront,” said South Kingstown Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred. “They should establish rules for the property owners, who would then be able to try innovative technology for abating or minimizing future erosion.” They include potentially costly options such as importing sand to build up the beach and a series of smaller retaining walls to help keep the sand from washing away.
“The question is, ‘Is the characteristic of our beach, the slope of the beach itself, conducive to any of those technologies?’ ” Alfred said.
Some winters and springs are relatively mild when it comes to offshore storms moving inland. In those years the beachfront remains calm and unchanged. However, there are times when Mother Nature releases a Nor’easter that rips the coast apart, bringing waves that take tons of sand from the beach. Some sand might later return to the coast by natural causes, but there is always a net loss, a situation that gets worse each passing year.
An aggressive plan to stem erosion was first laid out last year when South Kingstown submitted an application to CRMC in September, proposing construction of a steel and concrete wall with riprap stone armaments along a 200-foot span of Matunuck Beach Road. The council denied the “special exception” proposal by a 7-2 vote on April 10. On April 24, the council entertained another proposal by the town, asking CRMC to reclassify 1,400 feet of the shoreline from “coastal headlands, bluffs and cliffs” to “manmade shoreline,” in order to allow construction of a retaining sea wall. That motion was voted down by a 6-2 margin due to fears of setting a precedent, but CRMC didn’t slam the door shut.