Governor calls for better governmental process in Matunuck seawall debate

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Kevin Finnegan has spent almost a decade in a battle over where a protective seawall should be built, but with only days before a vital presentation to the state agency that will make the decision on the matter, Governor Gina Raimondo offered her support to at least streamline the process.

Finnegan admits “experts” have often predicted the days were numbered for his Ocean Mist Tavern, which juts over the sand on a web of stilts.

“They’ve been wrong,” Finnegan said, after a Friday lunch meeting with Raimondo. “But we know we have to take care of this.”

The issue is a seawall and a debate over where it should be located. One proposal floated by engineers with the Rhode Island Coast Resources Management Commission would build the wall along Matunuck Beach Road, in front of Finnegan’s Restaurant.

Finnegan has proposed using at least $2 million of his own money to rebuild and improve the existing 60-foot wall, which he says still protects the road that is the only way in and out of an eclectic strip of houses.

“The wall did its job even in its dilapidated state,” Finnegan said. “We just want to restore it. Bring it up to date. Make it better.”

Finnegan and his supporters have argued the mere process of building the wall in front of his restaurant could damage the building.

“Engineers have said it is very detrimental to me if the other wall is built,” Finnegan said.

As the Governor was leaving the tavern, she declined to offer an opinion on which proposal made more sense, but she did say the government should be fair and work more efficiently than what Finnegan has experienced in the past.

“This process has taken a long time and it’s time to find a resolution,” Raimondo said. “This is a business that has been here many years. The community loves it, and there’s no reason this can’t be resolved.”

Protecting Finnegan’s Ocean Mist and Tara Mulroy’s Tara’s Tavern next door are issues that also make economic sense, with Finnegan’s establishment pumping about $5 million a year into the economy, and Tara’s providing another $1 million-plus.

The matter is scheduled to be heard by CRMC on Tuesday evening, with the possibility that the close to 10-year debate could come to an end.

“I am the owner,” Finnegan said. “But I feel more like a caretaker for a place that is so important to so many people. Lawyers, doctors, blue collar workers, bikers. They all come together here.”

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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