SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI (WPRI) — Since January, the South Kingstown Police Department has written almost 90 percent of its parking tickets on one short stretch of a sea-side road, opening a new chapter in an already painful dispute over a pair of proposed seawalls.
Colonel Vincent Vespia, the town’s police chief, said the ticketing is about public safety and has nothing to do with the seawall controversy.
“The illegal parking potentially blocks access to  homes on that road,” Vespia said.
Kate Coyne-McCoy, from the organization Protect Matunuck, claims the tickets were written in an attempt to harass Ocean Mist owner Kevin Finnegan who only three months ago gained approval from the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council to reconstruct an existing seawall.
Finnegan will pay for the construction, confident it is the best option to protect the road and his business, along with a tavern next door to his.
Town Manager Stephen Alfred supports a $1.5 million dollar, RIDOT funded, sheet pile wall that involves driving plates of steel about 40 feet into the ground.
“There’s no way we need both walls. Engineers have said that,” Coyne-McCoy said. “[Finnegan] rebuilding the existing wall won’t cost taxpayers a penny.”
She claims Finnegan’s fight for the stone wall prompted the parking ticket “harassment.”
“They were not happy that he stood up to them,” Coyne-McCoy said. “But this is about everyone in Matunuck. Not just the Ocean Mist.”
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Alfred echoes Vespia’s statement that the ticketing is connected to concerns about public safety. He said the decision to build the sheet pile wall is based on engineering.
“The relic wall [as in the one preferred by Finnegan] will not protect the road,” Alfred said. “That’s not according to me. That’s an engineer’s opinion.”
Finnegan, who was unavailable to comment on the ticketing issue, has said the process of driving the metal sheets into the ground will knock his business into the ocean.
One undisputed point is that records obtained from the police department indicate that since the start of the year about 88 percent of the 2470 parking tickets written in the town, were placed on windshields of vehicles on Matunuck Beach Road, near the Ocean Mist.
“It is clearly harassment,” Coyne-McCoy said. “We think State Police should investigate.”
“That’s just not true,” Alfred said about the harassment claim. “This issue here is public safety. The illegal parking blocks access for emergency vehicles on that road.”
Alfred agrees the tickets are tied to the seawall dispute, but with a much different spin, saying Coyne-McCoy’s claims are an attempt to muddy the logic of the decision to move forward with the sheet pile wall.
Coyne-McCoy does not believe the tickets were written in the name of public safety, pointing out that the citation surge started over the past few years as Finnegan was fighting for, and gaining approval for the rock seawall.
“People have been parking there for 30 years,” Coyne-McCoy said. “And they have not been in trouble the way they are now.”
Arnold did say the enforcement effort does not appear to be working, since the ticketing has not stopped the alleged illegal parking.
He did not have a time frame for when construction would start on the sheet pile wall.