2012-04-26 / Front Page

DEM slashes brush, shrubbery at Beavertail

CRMC: Department went outside of scope of permit, but wasn’t done maliciously
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN


An example of the clear-cutting at Beavertail State Park performed recently by the state DEM. Vegetation should have been trimmed to about 2 feet, according to a coastal permit, not cut to the ground. 
PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH An example of the clear-cutting at Beavertail State Park performed recently by the state DEM. Vegetation should have been trimmed to about 2 feet, according to a coastal permit, not cut to the ground. PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH Whether or not you describe it as “vegetation management,” all of the brush and shrubbery around the perimeter of Beavertail State Park has been clear-cut. According to state officials responsible for the work, most of the visitors to the spectacular seaside peninsula are applauding the newly unimpeded views. But a local scientist has a much less favorable opinion of the work.

The work was performed by the state Department of Environmental Management under a permit granted by the Coastal Resources Management Council. But the permit language doesn’t explicitly say that DEM was free to leave only stubble where vegetation previously stood.

For example, the permit says, “No alterations (vegetative or otherwise) or activities are allowed on the coastal features or in the waterway adjacent to the site.” It also says that the “area of brush indicated on the approved plan may be maintained at a minimum height of 4 feet,” and that vegetation “on the coastal features shall remain in an undisturbed condition.”


Another example of the clear-cutting done by the state Department of Environmental Management at Beavertail State Park. 
PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH Another example of the clear-cutting done by the state Department of Environmental Management at Beavertail State Park. PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH How, then, does the work align with the permit language? And why was the vegetation cut to the ground?

“We do cleaning and cutting out there every year,” said Robert Paquette, chief of the DEM’s division of parks and recreation. “But, because the view corridor was becoming restrictive for the thousands of patrons who go out to Beavertail every year, we felt the need to do an extra cutting this year, so we requested an assent from CRMC, and we were given it. We went a little lower than we were supposed to, but all the view corridors are accessible now, and we’re getting rave reviews from the people who visit the park.”

Paquette said the determination that the “view corridor” was unacceptably obstructed was based on complaints “from patrons who said they couldn’t see the water or the boats, and that’s the reason they go to Beavertail.”

Told that the soil within the cutdown areas had not been overlain with wood chips to protect it from washing away in a drenching rain, Paquette said he wasn’t concerned about erosion. “All the roots that have been established for many, many years are still in place. We didn’t do any rototilling or damage the roots. We haven’t removed any plants. And all of this will all grow back within one to two years.”

Paquette added, “We do this every five to 10 years. We go down and cut the vegetation in the view corridor.”

When the Press pointed out that the permit didn’t allow any “alterations” on the coastal features, Paquette replied, “We got permission to cut there. That’s what the assent gives us – permission to do that. We don’t do any type of renovations on the beaches or the coastline unless we have permission from CRMC.”

Told that the only assent specifi ed by the permit was permission to “conduct vegetation management, including buffer zones, at Beavertail State Park,” Paquette said, “That’s what we did.”

He also pointed out that National Grid has clear-cut all the vegetation along its Beavertail right-ofway, which runs across the center of the peninsula. “You can see all of those power lines now, and there haven’t been any complaints about that. But it’s one or two people who want to complain about [the coastal cuts] while thousands of other people are very happy.”

Jamestown resident Carol Trocki, a conservation biologist who teaches at the University of Rhode Island, told the Press, “It sounds like DEM has simply repeated what they did the last time.” But she questions the severity of the cuts.

“The purpose of coastal buffers isn’t just to protect the state’s land or the land owned by private individuals. Their purpose is protecting the environment. In the case of vegetation at the edge of a bluff, the plants help prevent erosion and runoff. They also stabilize the shoreline.”

Like Paquette, Trocki says that the plants – which are mostly invasive species – “will grow back quickly.” But she adds that leaving soil bare is problematic.

“I understand the need for vegetation maintenance along roadsides, and the desire to enhance the views from the roadways. But I think the work could have been handled less aggressively. Recognizing the importance of coastal buffers should have taken precedence in DEM’s decision making. There are areas along the coastal features at Beavertail that don’t have any vegetation at all. So, removing the vegetation along the areas that had some vegetation is especially egregious.”

Laura Dwyer, CRMC’s public educator and information coordinator, told the Press that “DEM went outside the scope of the permit but it wasn’t done with malice. We received a call and we went out there, but, while its equipment was still there, the work had been finished, and we couldn’t un-ring the bell. But they are going to let the vegetation grow back, and it will be fine.”

Asked if CRMC is considering a citation against DEM, Dwyer said, “No. In assessing the situation, we ascertained that the permit exceedance wasn’t malicious. I think it was just miscommunication, at some level, and we’ve dealt with it to the extent we will. This is the sort of thing we have to deal with on a regular basis. I don’t mean DEM, necessarily, but property owners who misunderstand their permit. We try to take a calm approach to resolving the situation and remind people not to do it again.”

Yet another opinion on the issue was expressed by resident Frank Meyer, who has served on the Beavertail State Park Advisory Committee, and who feels that the park should be returned to the way it was before the Hurricane of 1938 deluged the peninsula with the seeds of invasive plants. Prior to that, Meyer said, Beavertail was “almost all wildflower meadows.” But now, he added, “It’s a jungle.”

“We used to have 360 degrees of ocean views from Beavertail,” Meyer said, “and the state promised the feds that the ocean views would be maintained. But now, there are vines killing every tree in the park.”

Meyer added, “The state also promised the feds that they would set up picnic areas and provide trash receptacles, but they haven’t – although they claim they have. DEM just does what it wants to out there.”

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