2011-02-10 / Front Page

CRMC delays vote on Hull Cove proposal for third time

By Tim Riel

The Bard property, outlined in red, is located on Hull Cove. The Coastal Resources Management Council requires a 50-foot buffer zone from the bluff, and since his proposal only includes an 8-foot buffer, he is asking the council for a variance. The Bard property, outlined in red, is located on Hull Cove. The Coastal Resources Management Council requires a 50-foot buffer zone from the bluff, and since his proposal only includes an 8-foot buffer, he is asking the council for a variance. The Coastal Resources Management Council delayed its vote for a third time on whether or not to allow a variance essential to build a home on waterfront property at Hull Cove.

The hearing was held Tuesday on Capital Hill, and was the third time that the parties – property owner Mark Bard, and the abutting neighbors in objection to his proposed construction on the lot – met in front of the CRMC. The council has heard nearly seven hours of testimony, cross-examination and objections during the three hearing dates thus far.

Bard, who bought the lot for $500,000 two years ago, has drawn up plans to build a 24- by 62-foot three-bedroom home on his property on the north end of Clarke’s Village Road. The home being proposed would be 8 feet from the coastal bluff, not nearly the 50-foot buffer zone required by the CRMC.

Therefore, Bard would need a variance in order to build his proposed home. The objectors are arguing that because of the erosion to the bluff on Bard’s lot, there isn’t much stability, and the 8-foot buffer zone wouldn’t be sufficient.

Chris Little, a 2010 candidate for R.I. Attorney General who is representing the neighbors in objection, called his final witness on Tuesday, and testimony was based primarily on wave action in, and around, Hull Cove. Frank Bohlen, a physical oceanography professor for the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut, discussed studies of wave action over 20-year periods at two locations – Station 101 between Block Island and Montauk, and the Buzzard’s Bay Tower.

“I was asked to look at factors affecting the bluff on the Bard property,” said Bohlen, who visited the property in January. “It led me to conclude that waves were a very important factor in the collapse of this bluff.”

Bohlen said that the reports he prepared, which were created from data compiled by the Army Core of Engineers, showed that wave action was a prevalent reason for the erosion of the bluff on Bard’s property.

“This is not to say that waves are the only factor,” Bohlen said. He added that groundwater overfl ow, direct rainfall and wind are other contributing factors to the erosion. “But the factor I think is the most important [in the erosion of the bluff was] induced by waves that led to the collapse of the portion of the bluff.”

Little and Bohlen also discussed sea-level rise. Bohlen said that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, since 1930, there has been an increase in sea level approximately 2.5 millimeters per year. “In all of these discussion,” Bohlen said, “we have to include considerations of the sea level rising.”

CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian interjected, “So in 80 years time, that sea-level rise is less than a foot? I understand sealevel rise, and I believe it, but it’s only a foot.”

Bohlen admitted that although the rise from 1930 to 2010 wasn’t too alarming, he said that rates over the next century are going to be higher than they were in the past century.

During cross-examination, Beth Noonan, who is representing Bard, asked Bohlen, “How do we know Montauk or Block Island have the same waves that hit the Bard lot?”

“[Waves] will change in characteristics,” Bohlen said, “and change in directions. That’s one reason why I also looked at data from the [Buzzard’s Bay] Tower area.”

Noonan, an attorney from Adler Pollock and Sheehan, asked Bohlen why he didn’t study waves from Hull Cove. Bohlen said that he prefers to study wave action over a period of time – at least 20 years – and that data for that kind of study from Hull Cove wasn’t available.

Noonan said that the studies from Station 101 and Buzzard’s Bay Tower were just assumptions of what it would be near the Bard property. “[Still water] in Beavertail is the same as still water at the Bard Property is one assumption,” she said. She also questioned the relevance of the wave action from Station 101 to the Bard property, asking if there was anyway to know for sure that waves came from the station and washed “into Narragansett Bay, into East Passage, into Hull Cove and into the Bard property.”

“From a statistical standpoint,” Bohlen said, “there is no discernable difference.”

Noonan also asked Bohlen how common it was for waves to exceed the height of the bluff. On very rare occasions, Bohlen said, could waves reach that height.

“But most erosion happens at the toes of the bluff, which causes the collapse,” Bohlen said. “Areas around the south shore of Block Island are a good example. I’ve never seen waves go over that bluff, but I’ve seen instability towards the bluff.”

After Bohlen’s testimony, Noonan took the opportunity to question Janet Freedman, the coastal geologist for the CRMC. Freedman submitted a report to the board on Jan. 31, with the purpose of addressing some of the issues that were raised in testimony during the first two hearing dates.

“Only a hurricane like 1938 could [have waves] run atop the bluff,” Freedman said. When Noonan asked if there was any proof of that, Freedman cited a 1939 photo that had over-washed sand above the bluff, north of the Bard lot. When asked if she had any evidence that this ever happened at the Bard lot, Freedman said, “On that property, I have no evidence, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Freedman also discussed a photo from her 25-page addendum, which showed bedrock movement. The photo included data compiled from algae lines from three years: 1939, 1975 and 2003. Freedman concluded that the algae line has moved 18.9 feet landward from 1939 to 2003. According to her report, “Some of the movement could be attributed to sea-level rise, but some is due to the erosion of the phyllite bedrock.”

At some points along the Hull Cove coast, Freedman admitted that the bedrock did move seaward over that time frame, but at the Bard property, the movement was primarily towards the bluff.

Noonan began questioning Ken Anderson, the supervising civil engineer for CRMC, by implying a conflict of interest, since he is a resident of Jamestown.

“You are a resident of Jamestown, correct?” she asked. After he replied he was, she asked, “And CRMC still allows you to review homes in your community?”

Anderson discussed the slope of the bluff on the Bard property, saying that it wasn’t a 2-1 ratio. Although the 2-1 ratio of the bluff slope isn’t mandatory, FEMA and the CRMC do encourage it. In order to reach the 2-1 ratio, Anderson said the slope would have to be cut back as much as 10 feet, which would have an effect on global stability of the lot, he said.

“If the slope is more shallow, it would be less erosive from rain effect,” Anderson said. “But with a dwelling construction that much closer to the edge of the bluff, it would have that much more impact to the bluff stability.”

Following the hearing, the CRMC, Noonan and Little could not agree on a date for a continuance in hopes of concluding the matter. No further date has been set.

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