2011-01-27 / Front Page

CRMC hears from opponents of Hull Cove construction

By Tim Riel

A decision by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on a variance necessary to build a home on waterfront Hull Cove property has been once again delayed.

Testimony and cross-examination of witnesses opposed to the development was adjourned shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, a deadline set by CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian at the beginning of the meeting.

The Jan. 25 public hearing held on Capitol Hill in Providence was a continuance from a Dec. 14 meeting when expert witnesses testified on behalf of property owner Mark Bard. Bard had purchased the land for $500,000 two years ago and proposes to build a 24- by 62-foot three bedroom house on the Clarke’s Village Lane lot.

Most of the testimony heard at Tuesday’s meeting centered around the cause of the erosion or “scarfing” of the bluff that overlooks the cove on Bard’s property. Chris Little, who represents a group of abutting property owners who oppose Bard’s plan, spent the majority of the hearing questioning Richard Pastore, chairman of the North Kingstown Planning Commission and owner of R.P. Engineering.

The hearing quickly became confrontational. Prior to the first witness being sworn in, the two sides began butting heads. Bard’s attorney Beth Noonan denied getting a letter eight days prior saying that Little would call Frank Bohlen as an expert witness. Noonan said that she didn’t receive the e-mail, and therefore wasn’t prepared to cross-examine an expert in physical oceanography.

The CRMC – which received the letter and confirmed that it was copied to Noonan – allowed the witness, but said that since Noonan was never formally made aware of it, she could bring her own expert to help her refute testimony at a later date if necessary.

With Pastore sworn in, Noonan objected to photos that Little asked to be allowed into evidence. Of the three photos that Little presented – one each from 1986, 2005 and 2007 – Noonan said that the dates on the two older photos were speculation and that there was no proof when they were taken. The chairman sustained the objection, and the photos were allowed only for identification pur- poses.

Then Little – who was a 2010 candidate for R.I. Attorney General – questioned Pastore about the scarfing on the bluff of the Bard property. Pastore said that the main cause of the scarfing was wave action. A dwelling as large as the one proposed by Bard would significantly affect the bluff’s stability, he said.

“When you look at the sequence of photos, you see a scarf develop over time, “ Pastore said. “My point is that wave action is more the cause than surface water or ground water on the bluff. If you had just surface water running off the bluff, I don’t think you’d have the entire stairway missing and the draining pipe exposed.”

The stairway is located near the Bard lot and connects the top of the bluff to the beach below. One set of stairs has already been destroyed and a new set has been erected.

Noonan objected to the next set of photos, saying that Pastore was on the Bard property without permission. Brian Goldman, the legal counsel for the CRMC, responded, “It’s irrelevant how he got there, as long as it depicts an accurate description.”

Along with the wave action eroding the bluff – which is the reason for the 50-foot coastal buffer zone that Bard is requesting the variance – Pastore said that construction of the house on the property would also affect surface water running off the bluff. He said that a structure would cause the water to increase in volume and speed, thus eroding the bluff at a greater rate.

“As the water flows down the hill, it has to go around the house,” Pastore said. “With more water flowing to either side [of the house] and because you’ve pushed more water through a smaller area, it flows faster, and increased volume with increased speeds makes erosion worse.”

“If the structure was built as proposed,” he continued, “it could potentially increase the structural instability of the bluff.”

Pastore said that a smaller structure has greater benefits, but no structure on the property would be ideal.

On cross-examination, Noonan, who is an associate of Adler Pollock and Sheehan, asked Pastore if he was familiar with certain spots on the bluff. Pastore said that he was, and that he had photos and studied them, but didn’t have any of the photos with him.

Pastore said that he had photos that showed proof that artificial fill including concrete, construction debris and reinforcing bar were part of the bluff.

“But you don’t have those photos either?” Noonan asked, on three occasions.

At one point, the chairman asked Pastore, “So you have photos that show artificial fill at the bluff, but you didn’t bring them with you?”

If the bluff contained a significant percentage of artificial debris, Kohler said, then it would erode easier.

With no photos of artificial debris on record, Little asked for testimony from Bob Kachanis Jr., who has lived on Clarke’s Village Lane near the Bard lot since 1964.

“There is construction debris, definitely,” Kachanis said. “It was an area where are parents wouldn’t allow us to play.”

Kachanis backed up Pastore’s arguement that the wave action over the years has had a significant impact on the bluff.

“It’s kind of like a yearly occurrence when you go down there after the winter and say, ‘Let’s see what’s been rearranged,’” Kachanis said.

When asked if he’s noticed scarfing over the year due to wave action, Kachanis admitted that he never heard the term “scarfing” before.

“Noticed scarfing?” he asked. “Tonight is the first time I hear that word. I assume that means it’s getting destroyed, right? Then yes.”

Little’s third witness was Kohler, a professor of physical oceanography at the University of Connecticut who has earned a Ph.D. in physical oceanography from M.I.T.

Kohler’s testimony was cut short, but said that wind, rainfall runoff, groundwater flow and wave action were also sources of the erosion. He also said the certain materials in the bluff – since there is artificial fill – most likely effects the erosion.

“When I talk about sediment, there is natural silk, clay, sand, but there also artificial fill,” Kohler said. “[The eroding happens] in part of the material, and in part of the energy you expose the material to.”

The public hearing will continue on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m., at the Administration Building on One Capital Hill in Providence.

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