2013-11-14 / Front Page

Abutters reveal concerns with Hull Cove trail

By Margo Sullivan

Before Tuesday night’s workshop on the proposed Hull Cove trail restoration, Conservation Commissioner Michael Brown predicted the big questions would be about why the plan called for a raised boardwalk and if the design was truly handicap accessible.

He was partly correct. Questions about the boardwalk and accessibility did dominate the discussion on Nov. 13, but a number of other issues also came up.

Two residents and an attorney representing a third resident attended the workshop, in addition to two staff members, Town Engineer Michael Gray and Town Planner Lisa Bryer, and a former conservation board chairman, Chris Powell.

The Conservation Commis sion will present all the feedback at the Town Council meeting Monday, according to Chairwoman Maureen Coleman. The councilors had asked Coleman to organize the workshop after the state gave Jamestown an $80,000 grant to build a raised boardwalk at the site.

To open the workshop, Coleman asked Powell to give some history about the Hull Cove trail that has been deteriorating for some time. Powell said most of the trail was difficult to negotiate on foot and was considered wetlands. After it was mapped, the state’s coastal council decided to permit only an elevated trail. The wetlands walkover was to be 3 feet above the existing grade and no more than 4 feet wide. Construction costs were estimated between $80,000 and $100,000, Powell said, due to the length, which is about 500 feet. But the project was never started.

Then last year, Brown was looking for funds to pay for the trail guides when he discovered a grant opportunity sizeable enough to finance the Hull Cove project. Ultimately, Jamestown received the grant.

At this point, Coleman said, the Conservation Commission is standing by to support the project, but the town will direct the construction and is seeking input from the public before any work starts.

Jeff Logioco, a Jamestown resident who lives near the trail, said the beach at Hull Cove is “kind of a hidden gem.” He wondered if the town has plans for the beach, such as bringing in vendors.

Powell said the state lists the area as a “hidden beach,” and added the town has “no intent to put anything there.”

Brown stressed there’s also no plan to add more parking. The lack of parking limits the number of people who can use the area at one time, he said.

There have been problems, Logioco said.

“I personally have taken out 500 bags of trash,” he said, referring to volunteer efforts to clean up the trail.

Brown said the commissioners know about the litter.

“The shellfishing and trash are issues we are concerned about,” he said. “Maybe [when the boardwalk is installed], the Jamestown police can walk down there and take a look.”

Logioco also wondered about the handicap accessibility. Was the point of making the boardwalk handicap accessible so people could enjoy the view?

Bryer said handicap accessibility was part of the grant requirement.

As Powell explained earlier, the boardwalk stops before the beach. A wheelchair-bound person, for example, could not use the boardwalk to reach the beach itself.

“It would just be a nice place to sit,” Brown replied.

William Smith, who also lives near the trail and volunteers for the Conanicut Island Land Trust, said he was one of 10 people who wrote a letter in April 2012 expressing some reservations about the plan. He asked permission to read a couple of paragraphs from that letter, and Coleman agreed. Smith said the trail needs improvement, but the solution should give access while “restricting environmental damage.”

The raised boardwalk is not optimal, he said.

“We welcome access to Hull Cove beach,” Smith said, “but increased access will bring increased use.”

According to Smith, a boardwalk would also welcome “legal, financial and other ramifications.” Specifically, he said, the boardwalk seemed to present fundamental problems. He could envision liability claims from people who fell off of it or made it to the beach and were injured by the undertow or surf.

Moreover, he estimated the useful life of the boardwalk at between 25 to 30 years. Toward the end of that time, the wood structure would deteriorate and the town would incur costs to keep up repairs and ultimately build a replacement.

He also cited other potential costs connected to sanitary issues, illegal parking, emergency access, and handicap accessibility.

The bottom line, Smith indicated, was he and other residents want the town to question whether the boardwalk requirement “is really necessary.” The group has come up with two alternatives that would be far less expensive, he says. One plan calls for stabilizing the trail with parallel lines of logs set 5 feet apart and covering the path with a permeable fill. The path would be slightly elevated, he said, and require some culverts so small animals, such as turtles, could move across.

The second plan called for laying down large flat rocks and adding fill between them so vegetation could grow.

“Neither would cost anything like $100,000,” he said.

He also questioned why town officials would consider spending $17,000 on landscaping to comply with an order from the state Department of Environmental Management.

Earlier, the state held Jamestown liable for damage to the Hull Cove trail after an unknown person illegally clear-cut trees and shrubs in the summer of 2012. Because the town was the property owner, the state ordered municipal officials to restore the trail to its previous condition.

“I don’t know who made the estimate,” Smith said, calling the price “outrageous.” He argued the path would grow back by itself and suggested renegotiating the agreement.

“Go to DEM and say, ‘Yes, we have a plan,’ Smith said. “And then do nothing.”

Smith said the upper section of the path is already regenerating itself, but the lower part is not because of mowing.

“The lower portion of the path is mowed quite close to ground,” he said. “I assume it’s the town doing the mowing.”

No, Brown replied, the Conservation Commission did not order mowing. He speculated a property owner must be mowing the path but indicated the matter should be investigated.

Smith summed up his position by saying he feels the town should “push back” against the Coastal Resources Management Council’s “boardwalk or nothing” solution.

“We’ve tried,” Powell said. “We’ve tried those avenues already.”

Brown returned to the issue about the $17,000 fine and said he originally thought the boardwalk would void the need to replant trees on the trail.

“My assumption was, this plan would suffice,” he said.

Powell said the commission should ask DEM directly if the boardwalk would eliminate any need to do further remediation on the trail.

Karen Benson of Newport suggested the town might apply for a grant from the CRMC Habitat Restoration Trust to obtain money for the “long-range part of the restoration.” Up to $50,000 is available annually, she said.

Benson, an attorney representing abutter Edward Smith, said her client has questions about the elevation because people walking on the boardwalk will be able to see into the home. She asked if the area could be screened with native, indigenous plants.

Her client also had concerns about people coming onto his property, which might expose him to liability. Benson raised another question about private ownership of a lot that the trail appears to cross.

After some discussion, Brown surmised this lot was one of the cabana lots by the beach. “So that’s a good question,” he said. “The actual ending point has to be on town land.”

“Also,” Benson continued, “on the grant application, it indicates there is not sufficient parking. So how do we address that?”

Commissioner Patrick Driscoll replied the answer would have to be enforcement. “With tickets and fines,” he said. “On some level, parking restricts access.”

According to Driscoll, people can choose to park illegally, but then they run the risk of being ticketed by police.

“What I don’t get,” Commissioner Kate Smith said, “is a $100,000 boardwalk for four visitors.”

According to Smith, even if there is no parking, “human nature” is going to take over and people will find a way to access Hull Cove.

Benson said she wasn’t suggesting increased parking, but rather wanted to make sure the town knew that a restored trail meant more people. What did the town plan to do to deal with the traffic?

“I don’t doubt enforcement is part of that plan,” she said.

Driscoll said the commissioners shared those concerns.

“I just want it to be a matter of record,” Benson said. “Abutters have a special legal right because they’re abutters.”

Initially, Commissioner Ted Smayda disagreed, but later conceded the Hull Cove trail should benefit both the neighbors and visitors.

Commissioner Smith said the town should be sensitive about the privacy issues and agree to use plants to screen the neighbors from the view of visitors.

Smith said the hope is the boardwalk eliminates trash and litter. However, there is the possibility that graffiti will increase, and skateboarders may try to use the boardwalk. The hope that all the visitors will be “respectful people” is probably not realistic, she added.

“Your point is well taken,” Coleman said. She suggested some attention should be given to signage and policing.

William Smith said he wanted to return to the liability issues and suggested several provisions, including an at-your-own-risk sign.

Driscoll said the town’s lawyer will consider liability issues.

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