2013-01-31 / News

Residents, town officials butt heads over future of Mackerel Cove

Erosion, parking are top concerns
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

The federal government will pay for 75 percent of the repair work on the Mackerel Cove barrier beach, which was battered in Hurricane Sandy, Town Engineer Mike Gray said at the Jan. 22 Town Council meeting.

Gray said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will kick in $9,000 to buy 20,000 plants to vegetate the beach dunes and will reimburse the town for 75 percent of the Public Works Department’s time and equipment.

For now, at least, town officials are going along with the Conservation Commission’s plan, which was developed with the help of state geologist and Jamestown resident John Boothroyd. The plan is to slow down beach erosion at Mackerel Cove by knocking out six parking spaces at the eastern end of the beach. That would extend the dune, and workers will plant sea grass in the hope the vegetation will keep the buffer in place and give the beach a chance to restore itself.

The Town Council held off on voting to buy more sand for the beach until the Public Works Department could assess the need.

Will the plan work?

“Only time will tell,” Gray said.

The plan has sparked some controversy among residents, however. Frank Meyer of Southwest Avenue compared the commissioners to the little Dutch boy of legend who put his finger in the dike to stop a flood. Meyer said the commissioners were “living in a dream world” if they believed they could stop the “mighty ocean” from devouring the Mackerel Cove beach by planting sea grass on the dunes.

Moreover, he said, the plan doesn’t stand a chance of working after some repairs that were made along the state road. Specifi cally, he said, after the Waller property at Mackerel Cove was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy, the state shored up a section of the property that previously was “unprotected.” State workers added stones, he said.

“That particular wall of stones was never there before,” Meyer said. “Now, when the energy of the waves comes in, it bounces off the stones and puts the water flow right where the Conservation Commission wants to put dunes.”

Meyer said there’s nothing town officials can do to stop the erosion at the beach.

“Live with it,” he said.

After the meeting, Commissioner Michael Brown said he went down to the cove to look at the stone wall by the Waller property in light of Meyer’s comments.

Everyone agrees the wall may change the impact from the waves pounding the beach, Brown said, but he thinks the commission’s plan is still viable. The wall will not redirect storm-water runoff, he said, and the primary reason for extending the dune at the eastern end of the beach was to channel the runoff back into the cove and slow the rate of erosion.

“I’m not an expert on walls,” Brown said, adding no one really knows how the wall will affect beach erosion until a storm hits.

Since 1939, coastal maps show the beach erosion rate has measured a half a foot a year, accord- ing to Carol Trocki, chairwoman of the conservation panel. She told the Town Council it was only a matter of time before the Mackerel Cove beach disappeared, but the plan was to manage the beach as an asset for as long as possible.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Trocki said she didn’t know any specifics about the repair work done around the Waller property and could not say what the impact might be on the Mackerel Cove beach.

The state Department of Transportation fixed the storm water drainage coming from Southwest Avenue and also restored a berm along road by the Waller property as part of the repairs to the state road, Gray said.

The wall by the Waller land, in fact, was there before, he said, but Gray conceded the repaired wall might change the wave action on the beach.

“The wall was there,” Gray maintained. “The rip rap was there before. The repair may change it.”

Gray speculated islanders would have to wait for another storm to find out if there was any impact on the beach.

Personally, Gray said, he didn’t have an opinion about the Conservation Commission’s plan for the beach.

“But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a dune,” he said. He told the councilors there was no harm in trying the plan, and they could revisit the issue later if the plan wasn’t working.

Residents suggested some other ideas for the beach.

“There is a way to solve this problem,” said Frank Sullivan of Whale Rock Road. Sullivan said the Mackerel Cove beach could be saved, borrowing the method used to build Point Judith’s Salty Brine Beach and Narragansett’s Sand Hill Cove. Although it would be expensive, Sullivan said, engineers could position boulders around the breakwater.

The suggestion was “pie in the sky,” Sullivan said, but it had worked at other barrier beaches around Rhode Island.

Sullivan also wanted to know about the parking plans for the beach.

“As far as parking is concerned,” he said, ”the issue of revenue hasn’t been addressed.”

He went on to say he was concerned about suggestions to allow parking across street from the beach.

“Are we going to have little kids running across the street to get on to the beach?” he asked. “At most beaches, people have to pay an entrance fee. I’d like to hear some discussion on what to do about parking and people.”

Jamestown banks about $35,000 annually from parking permits at Mackerel Cove, according to Town Council Vice President Mary Meagher.

To increase revenues, Councilor Eugene Mihaly suggested requiring permits to park on Hamilton Avenue during the summer. Many beach patrons park there now for free, he said.

Councilor Blake Dickinson said the councilors should put a discussion about parking on the agenda for the upcoming meeting.

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