Nor’easter grinds sand into squabble between Ocean Mist, town

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — As the Nor’easter pounded the shrinking strip of sand on Mary Carpenter Beach and sent the ocean onto Matunuck Beach Road, it also fed the waves of controversy over how to best protect the erosion-threatened road.

The taxpayer-funded, sheet pile-based wall is well underway, although not going exactly as planned, according to South Kingstown’s Town Manager Stephen Alfred.

“There’s been difficulties with sheet pile installation, with hard clay to get through,” Alfred said. “But the contractor has options to use and I think it will be done by Memorial Day. He still has ample opportunity to get the wall in place.”

The dusty beach road is the only way in and out for 240 homeowners and the customers for a pair of businesses owned by Kevin Finnegan, whose Ocean Mist has been around for decades.

Finnegan blames the construction process for shaking up his building, fracturing a gas line, and causing doors to no longer shut properly.Ocean Mist wall construction

According to Finnegan, the removal of a section of the old Mary Carpenter seawall during the project allowed waves to topple a portable toilet and send sand and rocks onto the road on Monday.

“The water came up into the street. Besides a hurricane, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that,” Finnegan said. “The wall was old, but even during Sandy it did its job. Now, we’re at a lower level of protection.”

Alfred disagrees, saying the storm would’ve propelled the waves and debris onto the road with or without old seawall.

“It had nothing to do with construction,” he said.

Last summer, Finnegan won approval from Coastal Resources Management Council to rebuild and extend the old Mary Carpenter seawall. He was hoping to begin the project he is funding at the same time as the town’s project.

But according to Alfred, the purchase and sales agreement for Finnegan to buy the beach is a work in progress.

The delay has left Finnegan frustrated and concerned that more winter storms will jeopardize the road.

“[The town wall project] is holding up everything,” said Finnegan. “I’m ready to put $7.5 million into Matunuck and I’m being held up by one project that many of us think is being mismanaged.”

Ocean Mist owner Kevin FinneganFinnegan said one issue involves the discovery that the piles could not be driven into the ground next to his business due to excessive and potentially damaging vibrations, leaving a 30-foot open area between the beach and the road.

“That’s how the water got on the road,” Finnegan said. “Through that breach.”

Alfred said that gap will be filled with other material to protect the short stretch of road.

“It will be up to the contractor to determine what to do there,” he explained.

If there’s one point of agreement between the two sides, it’s that their respective seawall projects are the best way to protect Matunuck Beach Road.

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