SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – The second phase of the Matunuck Seawall project recently brought gigantic boulders to the erosion-prone area to help protect the road between the Ocean Mist Restaurant and the Matunuck Trailer Association.
Jon Schock, South Kingstown’s utility manager, told The Independent that the large boulders – a stone offshore – came by a long tractor-drawn flatbed truck, which caught the attention of many neighbors .
These boulders will be part of a structure that includes a 350-foot sheet pile driven 40 feet into the ground and 42 inches above the ground in an effort to prevent washouts from Matunuck Beach Road, Schock explained.
“We are currently working on the project and will be shutting down on Memorial Day for the summer. The contractor is progressing very well,” he said.
The contractor will return to the site after Labor Day and pour a concrete wall cap, similar to the concrete cap of the phase one seawall, followed by water distribution work and finally repaving the road to complete the entire project, Schock said.
Beachfront bars and restaurants, supported by a maze of wooden beams, tower over crashing waves, as seawater regularly passes beneath structures at risk, an Eco RI News description that perfectly matches the buildings present along the beach. It includes the famous Ocean Mist beach bar.
However, the problem of Matunuck Beach’s disappearance goes far beyond the future of Ocean Mist and other waterfront buildings.
The village of Matunuck, home to about 500 residences and several businesses, is a big hurricane away from severe damage, according to Eco RI and other erosion prevention advocates.
A well-known problem
The Matunuck area, near the beach, has had erosion problems for many years. The approach to solving the problem has had its share of supporters and critics.
The constructed and expanded four-foot-tall seawall will do little to protect the neighborhood from a 100-year storm like the one that hit in 1938, the organization said, noting that the debris field created by the 1938 hurricane reached all the way to Route 1.
About half of the village’s homes and some of its businesses can only be reached via Matunuck Beach Road, a two-lane street that runs along the eroding beach that bears its name.
In addition, the infrastructure that carries drinking water to homes and businesses in the village is buried under a road that is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels, storm surges and erosion, said Eco RI News.
City officials, however, said their plan to address issues along the road and with erosion was adequate.
The city had purchased two oceanfront lots between the Matunuck Trailer Association and the Ocean Mist in 2013 from the estate of Mary Carpenter for $60,000 with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
South Kingstown made the purchase to complete a steel seawall in 2018 along the edge of the Matunuck Beach Road right-of-way to protect the road from coastal erosion.
The first phase consisted of a 200-foot seawall constructed immediately east of the proposed site. CRMC approved permits for this work in July 2012, and it was completed in 2018.
The 350 foot sheet pile seawall was constructed within the South Kingstown right-of-way along Matunuck Beach Road. The second phase of a project aims to protect the road and related municipal infrastructure against shoreline erosion.
In 2017, Protect Matunuck, a group of business owners and community members, took to Facebook to describe the effect of the 200ft phase one construction on Matunuck Beach Road and Ocean Mist.
The post alleged that a storm caused the ocean to break up on Matunuck Beach Road for the first time since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 due to cement block walls and sand dunes being removed for city construction. , leaving the road exposed.
And complications related to the insertion of the sheet piles and construction vibrations led Protect Matunuck to say that “the project did not go smoothly”.
City officials refuted the allegations at the time. Former city manager Stephen Alfred said the road was no more exposed than it has ever been and said people had a false sense of security with the blocks that lay there between the ocean and the road because there had never been a foundation under them.
The first phase of work is complete, but more of the seawall to the west is to be completed in the second phase of a $2.7 million project designed to protect the road and associated municipal infrastructure from the shoreline erosion.
Already 15 years ago, state and federal authorities expressed concern about erosion and a plan to deal with it.
“The Matunuck shoreline has lost 30 feet of beach over the past decade,” U.S. Senator Jack Reed said at the time.
Discussions by state and local officials showed that it would be difficult to permanently address erosion issues along the South Kingstown coastline.
City officials and representatives from the state Department of Environmental Management, the state CRMC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers weighed their options.
Just below the soft imported sand is a harder part of the ground. It’s a reminder of what’s permanent beneath the temporary wellness part that disappears to reveal hard ground on which washed up rocks wait to be removed.
“Most of Rhode Island’s coastline is erosive – the sand disappears faster than it is replenished – so erosion is a problem facing the state as a whole. The beaches of South Kingstown are particularly sensitive,” said Laura Dwyer, spokeswoman for the Coastal Resources Management Council.