Commission mulls proposal that would widen town beach
The Conservation Commission is weighing a plan to widen the beach at Mackerel Cove, said Commissioner Michael Brown at the board’s Sept. 13 meeting. The execution, as outlined by a state geologist, would call for eliminating parking at both the east and west ends of the beach, and then allowing nature do most of the rest of the work.
The beach has improved over the past 10 years, but coastal erosion has remained a threat and the middle of the beach is still too narrow, the conservation commissioners have maintained.
Now, John Boothroyd, state geologist and Jamestown resident, has suggested the solution to the beach’s woes could be as simple as preventing motorists from parking cars at either end of the beach.
Boothroyd completed a site visit to the beach on Aug. 22, Brown said. Boothroyd, who was invited to assess the beach’s current condition and suggest ways to cope with erosion, walked the length of the beach with Brown and Chairwoman Carol Trocki. Also present were Town Councilor Ellen Winsor and Town Engineer Michael Gray.
His suggestion, Brown said, called for moving the parking away from the beach.
“John’s attitude was to get the cars out of there and just leave it,” Brown said. He went on to explain Boothroyd’s plan would specifi- cally call for an end to “all parking to the left of the shack” at the east end of the beach to allow the vegetation to grow in.
Eventually, the east end “will look like the other side of the road,” Brown said, referencing the “scrubby green” ground cover opposite the beach. Once that vegetation comes in, the storm surge and dune “overwash” will have a way to run back into the ocean and the erosion problem largely “will take care of itself.”
“At the east end, the water will get out through vegetation, if you leave it alone,” Brown said. “At the west end, maybe pick up the rip rap and pile it and build a little berm.” Brown said those were Boothroyd’s other suggestions, which went against conventional methods like installing snow fences.
“He’s not big on fences,” Brown said. “Let nature do what it will do. Let it alone and see what happens.” Beyond that, Boothroyd had suggested raking the beach with a tractor and using the seaweed and other material to build up a dune following a management plan.
However, Commissioner Patrick Driscoll was initially skeptical and said the solution did not address drainage problems on the road, which apparently called for an engineering solution.
“There are other issues,” Driscoll said. “There are waves that breach the dune, and how do they get back into the ocean?”
Boothroyd’s plan was worth considering, Driscoll said, but added he would also want to see engineering studies.
In December, Driscoll suggested eliminating some parking to redirect the water runoff and allow the sand dune to reinstate itself. Driscoll had said previously the ideal solution would be to get rid of parking at the beach, but that would not be practical.
However, Brown said, the town could ask the state’s permission to allow parking on the road shoulder by Sheffield Cove as a substitute for the lost spaces at the town beach at Mackerel Cove.
“Consider reducing the parking and let the beach reform,” Brown said. “Consider asking the state to allow parking on the Sheffield Cove side. This is just on the other side of street. Consider allowing for a natural buffer to reform. Consider a swale on the south side, just so vegetation could not get wiped out.”
Brown said the worst erosion occurs when the water goes back out to the ocean, not when the storm surge comes in over the beach, and he noted that the road runoff and storm surge tend to “happen together.”
Driscoll agreed and said the idea would be to “push [the water] over the rocks before it comes down.”
The commissioners said the next step would be to make a recommendation, but decided to wait until their next meeting when Trocki would be present. The chairwoman was out of town for the Sept. 13 meeting.
In other business, Commissioner Ted Smayda said he would like to see Jamestown perform its own tests on coastal water quality, independent of the state Department of Environmental Management. In other communities, such as North Kingstown, he said the harbormaster monitors coastal water quality. However, Jamestown’s harbor ordinance does not mention testing coastal water quality as one of the harbormaster’s responsibilities. Moreover, DEM test results are typically not readily available, and the commissioners are being asked to make decisions without the facts. He asked the panel’s opinion about researching grants that would pay for the test equipment, and the commissioners supported the concept after some initial hesitation.
“Ted is floating a concept for the town to buy the equipment to do its own testing,” Brown said.
Smayda said he planned to go to nonprofit organizations and foundations to collect the information about available grants.